To maintain quality and prevent spoilage, many common foods should be refrigerated. As different foods require different storage temperatures and as there are wide variations inside the average refrigerator (from as low as -18°C to as high as 13°C) each of the items listed opposite has been given a letter which corresponds with an appropriate area on the refrigerator diagram.
Most fresh produce will keep longer if it is cool and dry before being stored because moisture encourages deterioration. Some fruits and vegetables keep better if they are wrapped while others, such as bananas, onions, pumpkins and potatoes keep well out of the refrigerator in a cool, dark place.
Joints of fresh meat (such as a leg of lamb) have a longer storage life than smaller cuts and all meat should be unwrapped and occasionally turned to expose all surfaces to the cold air. Poultry should be unwrapped, dried and loosely covered. Fish, minced meat and offal are best stored in the coolest
area, even for short periods. Most fruits and vegetables should be kept away from this area as they lose quality if kept at a temperature which is too low.
Do not pack the refrigerator to overflowing – an overcrowded refrigerator prevents proper air circulation and could result in reduced storage times. Food that is going off will not improve if moved to a colder area (or the freezer) and it may taint other food.
The smaller freezer compartment of a single door refrigerator can have a temperature of around -9°C, which is not low enough for long term storage. And, as the temperature will rise when the compartment door is frequently opened, frozen food, especially meat, should not be kept there for longer than three to four weeks.
Generally, storage times should not exceed those given opposite. Although refrigerated foods may stay ‘fresh’, the longer they are kept the more they lose texture, flavour and nutrients.
Leftover cooked vegetables deteriorate quickly, so either use them as soon as possible or freeze them immediately for adding to soups or casseroles.
- Shape mashed potatoes into patties, roll in flour, dip in beaten egg, then in breadcrumbs, and cook in butter or margarine for about two minutes on each side.
- Whip mashed potatoes with milk, add grated onion, top with grated cheese and bake, uncovered, in a preheated 180°C oven for 20 minutes.
- Puree leftover vegetables with some milk or cream and reheat.
- Use finely chopped vegetables in fillings for stuffed capsicums, mushrooms or eggs.
- Leftover cooked cabbage or Brussels sprouts can be chopped and mixed with an equal amount of mashed potato to make ‘bubble and squeak’. Fry in bacon fat or butter, season and brown on both sides. A dish such as this goes well with grilled bacon, sausages and grilled tomatoes for a traditional hearty breakfast.
Storing Poultry, Meats, Fish:
A number of the recipes make imaginative use of leftover chicken and turkey, beef, pork and lamb. Here are some additional ideas.
- Dice cooked chicken for use in soups, salads, sandwiches, casseroles, or pies.
- Chop leftover chicken, turkey, beef or pork, and add to a white sauce or a spaghetti sauce. Season, heat and serve over pasta.
- Add cubed beef, lamb or pork to cooked rice, along with onions and other vegetables, to make a rice pilaf or mince the meat for meat patties or meat loaves.
- Make omelettes, salads or baked sliced potatoes more substantial by adding a sprinkling of chopped ham. Ham is also good with green beans and in casseroles, patties or croquettes.
- Use chopped cooked lamb as a base for a curry or shepherd’s pie or as a stuffing for zucchini or eggplant.
- Add leftover gravies and pan juices to soups, stews and casseroles.
- Turn cooked fish into a sandwich filling or salad by flaking it into small pieces and mixing with capers, chopped celery, onion, sweet pickle relish and mayonnaise.
Storing Dairy Products:
Don’t shy away from recipes calling for egg yolks but not the whites, or vice versa.
- Use uncooked egg yolks for making mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce or custards.
- Make a creamy salad dressing by mixing a raw egg yolk to every ‘/4 cup of plain vinaigrette dressing.
- To save unused egg whites, freeze them in ice cube trays, one white per segment. They will thaw easily for later use in angel food cakes, meringues, macaroons and souffles.
Storing Fruit and Vegetables:
When storing fruit and vegetables the rule to observe is ‘cool it’. Deterioration of produce largely depends on temperature; too hot and it will ripen and rot, too cold and it will soon lose its freshness. Some fruits and some vegetables such as bananas, pumpkin and marrows, squash, cucumber, zucchinis, tomatoes, capsicums, potatoes, sweet potatoes and most tropical fruits are ‘chilling sensitive’ and may spoil by prolonged exposure to temperatures below 10°C.
Fruit and vegetables need to breathe and may suffocate if enclosed in sealed airtight containers. Store produce sensitive to refrigeration in the coolest part of the house; potatoes must be stored in the dark as exposure to light may produce poisonous green patches. The wilting of leafy vegetables and those with tender skins such as green beans and zucchinis can be retarded if they are wrapped in thin plastic film. Refrigerate other vegetables in perforated plastic bags.
- Do not discard over-ripe bananas; slice, sprinkle with lemon juice and freeze for use in milk shakes, puddings or banana bread. Bananas will blacken if refrigerated.
- The pulp of some tropical fruits, especially passionfruit, keeps well when frozen.
- Fresh ginger keeps for months in the freezer. Wrap it tightly in foil and chop off the amount needed for a recipe.
- To peel garlic quickly, put the clove under the flat, broad side of a heavy knife and thump the blade with your fist. The skin will split and can be pulled away easily.
- When you need a few drops of lemon juice, puncture the whole lemon with a toothpick, squeeze out what you need and replace the toothpick. The lemon will keep much longer than if it had been cut.
- To separate the leaves of roundhead lettuce, hit the core end sharply against the kitchen counter top. The core can be pulled out and the leaves will separate without tearing into strips.
- Brown onions have a stronger flavour than white onions; shallots and spring onions are milder – choose the variety which suits your taste. Spring onions and shallots are interchangeable in most recipes.
- To peel tomatoes easily, drop them into boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon, put them under cold water and peel with a sharp knife.
- Save the nutritious water from cooked vegetables to use as a base for soup, or as a substitute for a meat stock.
- Unripe (green or yellow) chillies are the juiciest and have the most flavour; ripe (red) chillies can be fresh or dried but they are hotter. Bought chilli powders vary enormously, they can be mild or mouth-scorching. As a general rule, Asian-style powder is hotter than Mexican-style powder which contains other spices.
- Parsley will keep fresh for about 20 days if it is gently washed in cool water, the stems cut at an angle and the bunch put in a glass of cold water. Slip a plastic bag over the glass and the parsley and store in the refrigerator. Or you can freeze parsley; dry thoroughly, chop, and store in a plastic container.
Storing Meat and Poultry:
Most state authorities require fresh chicken sold in plastic wrap to be date-marked. It should not be kept in the home refrigerator for more than three days and then only in the coldest section. Dressed fresh poultry sold unwrapped is not required to be datemarked. Frozen poultry is not datemarked – it can be stored, frozen, for many months. Smoked chicken, like other smoked products, should not be stored in the household freezer.
- To quickly prepare bacon rashers for cooking, stack the slices and cut them crosswise into the required strips or pieces instead of cutting one rasher at a time.
- It is much easier to cut very thin slices of beef before cooking if the meat is partially frozen.