In a world of excess and greed, Madeleine Chapman just wants everyone to get the most out of their food.
When I was in my final year at university, I had my heart broken. Not by a young man, but by Hilary Barry. The spear she used to pierce my heart was this tweet.
For years I had believed that Hilary was our nation’s cool aunt. She was mature and wise but also knew what was going on with the young people. But what aunt doesn’t know to keep leftover KFC in the fridge?
I figured there were two possible explanations for such an outlandish revelation:
1. Hilary Barry had never had KFC before (brag)
2. Hilary Barry had never thought to save her leftovers (bigger brag)
My shock over this tweet simmered down the more people whose kitchens I observed. And when I say people, I mean people with money.
Turns out a lot of New Zealanders don’t know the beauty and art involved in keeping leftovers. So for those of you who have ever woken up on a Sunday morning and wished that you’d saved those last four dumplings from the night before, there are the seven sacred rules to keeping your food fresh the day after you first eat it. And the day after that. And the day after that, until it starts to smell weird.
Keeping leftovers is a practice that not only benefits your pocket, it creates good habits that will serve you for the rest of your life. Through saving portions for later, we learn not to overwork or rush to complete a task. We learn to extend the life of our resources. We foster creativity in the kitchen. I’ll leave you to uncover the rest of life’s secrets as you uncover your food after reheating it in the microwave.
1) Assess the situation early
Leftovers only work if there’s enough for a full meal the next day. As you dish up your dinner, make note of how much is still left in the pot/pan/bowl. The only thing worse than no leftovers is overeating in an attempt to finish all the food, failing, and leaving a tiny amount that’s barely worth saving. After eating half a kilo of fried noodles, you might think you never want to eat again. But come morning, or even three hours later, those noodles will be back on your mind. We all know this to be true.
If you have guests over, there’ll always be leftovers. Make the most of the extra food by packing it away while they’re still eating so nobody can stand in the kitchen after dinner and nibble on all the food while refusing to get out of your house. Real friends would happily go into the fridge for seconds and fake friends don’t deserve seconds. A win-win.
2) Separate into food groups
It shouldn’t even need to be said but I’ve seen it happen too many times so I guess it needs to be said. Don’t pack everything into the same Tupperware (I’m using Tupperware as a general term meaning any storage container so please don’t call me out on my container privilege). Nobody cooks their lamb chops in the same vessel they mix their green salad so why store them overnight together?
3) Make sure you have enough storage
Nothing screams adulthood like suddenly appreciating storage containers. If you can’t afford Tupperware or Sistema or any other brands, the next best thing (just as good actually) is to use ice cream containers. If you don’t eat ice cream, use plastic takeaway containers. If you don’t eat takeaways, your life is too wholesome to be reading this article.
4) Meat in the front, party in the back
The back of the fridge is where leftovers go to die. And like a corpse, they’ll soon start making your kitchen smell gross. When you fill up your fridge with all your glorious future meals, be sure to put the meats and other “that’s gonna go off real soon” foods at the front. Unimportant foods like rice can go way at the back. I once found a stray container at the back of my fridge and opened it to find an old steak I’d forgotten about that had since gone off. I had to throw that steak away. Sometimes when I’m hungry I think about that steak and what could’ve been.
5) There’s a reheating hierarchy and carbs are at the bottom
Most leftovers look really gross after a night in the fridge. Sauces congeal, fats harden, things clump together. Most of the foods that look the worst as leftovers make for the best leftover meals. A chicken drumstick stuck in a congealed sauce looks horrendous. Dump that jelly-coated chicken leg onto a bed of rice, heat for a minute, and just try to tell me that’s not one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten. On the other hand, a pile of leftover KFC fries sounds amazing, looks amazing, but often tastes like dust. In the reheating hierarchy, chicken and sausages are at the top, followed by soups/stews/curries, pastas, cooked vegetables, and ending with fries and rice. No one ever makes the correct amount of rice. Then when you try to reheat it it crumbles and is bad. Sometimes putting a splash of water on rice before reheating with a cover (essentially re-steaming it) can work but ultimately rice without an accompanying sauce is just not a good leftover food.
6) Cakes don’t belong in the fridge
This might just be one for the Tupperware owners but cakes should never go in the fridge if you can help it. They dry out faster than my legs in winter and absorb all the smells of other food in your fridge. It’s yuck. Instead, if you have an airtight container (Tupperware, or some other brand that’s not Sistema), that cake will stay fresh and moist and be so good a week later you won’t even care that I just used the word ‘moist’. Twice. There’s also something cleaner about keeping baked goods in the pantry rather than the bacteria minefield of a fridge you probably haven’t cleaned in months.
7) There’s nothing wrong with eating dinner for breakfast
Have you ever had a piece of KFC chicken for breakfast? It’s incredible. Somewhere along the line it became ‘weird’ to eat leftover dinner for breakfast. Cereal is fine, eggs are fine, tiny sausages are fine, yet somehow a regular sized sausage is weird. Eating leftovers for breakfast has only ever been a joyous occasion for me. A cooked meal that takes less than two minutes to prepare? It’s common sense. But remember to cover your food with a paper towel when reheating. Grease splatter is very real and very annoying to wipe off a microwave ceiling.
To this day I don’t know what exactly Hilary Barry meant by her tweet about KFC leftovers, but to clear it up once and for all, KFC leftovers go in the fridge and are a delicacy the morning after. It’s winter now and a hot breakfast can cure many ails. So get out your Tupperware and start… leftover-ing? Leaving over? Start making use of your fridge.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.