How to safely freeze Christmas dinner leftovers

Assortment of frozen Vegetables in fridge. Frozen food in the freezer
There’s no need to let leftovers go to waste this Christmas (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

Christmas food is all about excess – and often our eyes our bigger than our bellies on the bug day.

That can mean we have heaps of leftovers overflowing in bowls and Tupperware, taking up all your fridge space.

While you might have a plan for some of your leftovers – sprouts and potatoes are perfect for a bubble and squeak, and the turkey goes great in a pie – you’re not going to know what to do with everything. But you don’t want all that hard work in the kitchen to go to waste.

So, you need to clear some space in your freezer because pretty much all your festive food from Christmas dinner can be frozen and saved for a later date. But you need to make sure you’re doing it properly – and safely.

How to freeze leftover turkey

As long as you cooked your turkey from fresh, not frozen, you can freeze the meat that you don’t eat on Christmas Day. But there are a few things to consider.

First of all – the turkey has to be completely cool. It is vital when refrigerating cooked meats that they have cooled to 21°C within two hours of cooking to prevent bacteria growth.

The meat should be cooled before being putting it in the fridge, so the fridge temperature doesn’t rise and compromise the safety of other food. 

Separating the leftover turkey into individual portioned containers will help it to cool down quicker.

Next, you need to think about what you’re planning to do with the leftover turkey, because that will impact how you store it.

Stews, curries and soups will be easier to do if you have diced or shredded the turkey before freezing it, and it’s easier to see exactly how much you will need to defrost.

Don’t let all that delicious gravy go to waste (Picture: Getty)

If you want to save the turkey for another roast, cut it into slices then pour a little bit of cool gravy on top before you seal the container. This helps to keep the turkey moist when you heat it up again.

You also need to think about what you’re putting the turkey in. Make sure you use an airtight containers or freezer bags labelled with the meat type and the date when it was first cooked – so you don’t forget.

To make sure the meat freezes at the correct temperature and in the correct time, put the cooled turkey meat in the fridge before freezing – this will help it to reach -5°C within four hours.

Top tips for freezing leftovers

  • Get your food into the freezer ASAP, rather than leaving it in the fridge for a few days first. The fresher the food is when it goes into the freezer, the fresher it will be when it comes out.
  • Freeze your food in manageable portions – sizes that you will be able to eat all in one go. Once you have thawed your leftovers, you shouldn’t refreeze it.
  • Wrap your food well to avoid freezer burn. Food that has suffered from freezer burn is still safe to eat, but it may not be as tasty.
  • Always cool your food down before freezing it, and don’t put a lot of room temperature food into the freezer all at once time. You don’t want to risk increasing the ambient temperature too much.
  • Your freezer works best when it is full, so the more you keep in there, the better.

How to freeze leftover gravy

There’s nothing like Christmas dinner gravy. And if there’s any left at the end of the meal – you won’t want it to go to waste.

The key to freezing gravy is to try to use as little fat, milk, or cream as possible when you make it – because these ingredients tend to separate when the gravy is thawing.

A good tip to reduce separation is to run the gravy quickly through a food processor before you put it into a freezer-safe container.

When it comes to thawing, you need to think ahead. Thaw frozen gravy in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat it slowly in a saucepan over a medium-low heat, constantly whisking to prevent lumps.

If your gravy begins to separate, add water, or stock and whisk it up until it’s gets smooth again.

How to freeze leftover vegetables

Like with the turkey, you need to make sure your vegetables are all thoroughly cool before freezing – so you don’t accidentally mess up the temperature of your freezer.

Then just portion them up, and stick them in individual airtight bags or containers until you want to use them.

Freezing them might mean they’ll lose their crisp exterior – particularly those beloved roast potatoes – but once defrosted, carrots, sprouts, beans and broccoli they can be combined with mash to create festive bubble and squeak or thrown into stews and curries for added flavour.

Another great hack is to use leftover vegetables to make a rich and delicious stock, which can then be frozen for when you need it – just use the same principles for freezing gravy that you’ll find above.

You can even freeze raw, uncooked potatoes so they don’t go to waste if you bought too many. Simply parboil them for five minutes before freezing, then cook them from frozen whenever you need them.

How to freeze leftover cheese

Cheese platter with different sorts of cheese
You don’t have to chuck all that leftover cheese (Picture: Getty/Westend61)

Cheese actually freezes really well. Its high fat and low moisture content means it keeps its texture and you don’t lose any flavour when it thaws – so your cheeseboard can live again.

Why not grate your leftover cheddar before freezing, so it’s easy to use in cooking? Larger wedges of cheese from your festive snacking can be frozen whole and brought out again to defrost the day before your next dinner party.

The same goes for bread – we all know how to freeze bread. If you’ve splashed out on a fancy loaf for Christmas, make sure you slice it up and bung it in the freezer. Combine it with that leftover cheese for the perfect grilled sandwich.

How long do frozen Christmas leftovers last in the freezer?

Cooked turkey can last between four and six months in the freezer.

A gravy thickened with flour can remain frozen in an airtight container for up to four months without losing its flavour.

Frozen vegetables will last in the freezer for around a year to 18 months.

Cheese can be kept frozen for a really long time, but for the best quality, try to use the cheese within six – nine months.

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