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Christmas dinner is the most anticipated event during the festive period, bringing friends and family together to enjoy a plate full of everything from turkey and stuffing to roast potatoes and green vegetables. For many households, tucking into the leftovers for the days after December 25 is a yearly tradition, but the food can quickly spoil if stored incorrectly. Lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart has shared the best ways to wrap up your favourite festive foods to keep them fresh for as long as possible – without drying out.
Getting the most out of your hard work in the kitchen is best done by grazing on the leftovers after Christmas, but things like turkey and cooked vegetables can easily lose their flavour and dry out if stored incorrectly.
Culinary expert and lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart explained that after two hours at room temperature, food will enter the temperature “danger zone” (between 4-60C), where harmful bacteria can quickly grow and multiply to “unsafe amounts”.
She said: “This will increase the risk of foodborne illness, ultimately putting a damper on the holiday season.”
To avoid this, she noted that “all leftovers should be stored in the fridge within two hours of being cooked or heated”, though the exact shelf life will vary depending on the ingredients.
How to store cooked turkey
If you’re planning to use the leftovers in a few days, the fridge is the best place for them, though putting a whole turkey away is not advised. Instead, you should separate the meat into smaller portions using airtight containers to ensure it cools down properly in the fridge.
The off-cuts will be good for three to four days from the day they were cooked. Kimberly Baker, director of the Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Program Team explained that freezer-safe bags or containers are best if you choose to freeze leftover turkey, adding that the most important storage tip is to “limit air space in the package to prevent freezer burn”.
Alternatively, you can use tinfoil followed by cling film to keep cooked meat fresh. She said: “The aluminium foil helps prevent freezer burn and the plastic wrap helps retain moisture.”
Frozen turkey will last indefinitely in most cases, though you should try to use it within four to six months for the “best quality and flavour”.
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A joint of glazed ham is another popular meat served on Christmas Day and should be stored in the fridge in small portions contained in air-tight tubs, just like turkey.
Frozen gammon, however, will not keep for as long as white meat, and should not be stored for more than one to two months. According to Martha, this is because the quality and taste “will deteriorate quickly”.
There are many kinds of stuffing enjoyed with a festive roast dinner, some of which are made entirely with breadcrumbs, sage and onion, and others with pork for a meaty flavour.
Kimberly said: “In general, the shelf-life of stuffing is seven days from the day of preparation if stored in a refrigerator.”
However, if the stuffing contains ingredients that were prepared before cooking the stuffing, the shelf-life will be seven days after that ingredient was prepared.
For example, sausage stuffing using meat that was prepared three days before being added to the stuffing should be eaten or disposed of from the day the pork was cooked.
Mashed and roast potatoes are the most common forms of spuds served alongside turkey and other trimmings, and while they are often the first foods to be eaten up, they can be stored and enjoyed at a later date.
Potatoes will store well in airtight containers for three to four days in the fridge. To freeze cooked roast potatoes, place them into a freezer container – either all together, or in separate single-serve portions for up to four months.
Cooked vegetables have many uses after being cooked, either as bubble and squeak ingredients or as a healthy addition to pies, curries and stews. No matter how you plan on using them after they’ve been cooked and cooled, Martha recommended keeping them in the fridge rather than freezing them.
You should be able to keep vegetable sides fresh for three to four days in a sealed container placed in the fridge, though freezing them will “ruin their quality and texture”. Martha noted that this is especially true if your dish contains a creamy sauce or breaded toppings.
Sauces and gravy
Leftover gravy and cranberry sauce are staple condiments enjoyed with a traditional Christmas dinner, though many people shy away from keeping the leftovers. However, Kimberley noted that they store surprisingly well in the fridge if kept in plastic or glass storage containers with tight-fitting lids.
She said: “Gravy should be eaten within three to four days, or frozen in an air-tight container for four to six months. As for leftover cranberry sauce, use it within three to four days, or freeze it in an air-tight container for up 12 months.”
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