Chinese food is best served hot. But what if we told you there was a way to store and enjoy takeaway food later just as it were fresh?
Chinese food is made using complex ingredients and requires oil, vegetables, meat and more. This makes it trickier to store, but with the right method, anything is possible.
Chinese food is notorious for lacking in taste once it’s reheated and in this article, we will discuss why that happens and how to combat this issue.
If you have been out with friends and have a bunch of leftover food then you might probably think that storing it in the same containers they came in would be a good option – but you would be wrong.
Still, there are a lot of things to consider before you store Chinese food as some dishes may fare better than others.
How long is Chinese food good for, and how do you keep it fresh? Chinese food lasts up to 3 days in the fridge in its original packaging, though it’s best to eat it within 24-36 hours. Keep it fresh by storing it in airtight containers and freezing what you won’t eat quickly.
Chinese food requires some attention as you can’t just keep every dish in the fridge, especially if you want to store it for the long term. While storing Chinese food for up to 24 hours might work, reheating it may pose different challenges.
We will discuss the many ways to store Chinese food and reheat it as needed too. We will also be covering different techniques, strategies, and how best to reheat food once frozen as well.
Read on to learn all about storing and reheating Chinese food.
How Long Does Chinese Food Last In The Fridge?
For starters, one of the best ways to store Chinese food in the fridge would be to keep it in the same container it came in – but there is a huge asterisk here.
If you bought food home the night before and want to have it the next day, then sure, you can go ahead and store it in the fridge at 32°F in the same packaging. In fact, Chinese food can be good to eat for up to 3 days.
But we wouldn’t recommend that you keep the food in for that long. It’s best to consume it within 24-36 hours after storage.
This is because Chinese food has vegetables, broth, sauces, thickeners, and more. Think of it as a petri dish that is primed for bacteria.
How To Store Chinese Food, By Type
Here are some foods that are good to store in a fridge (set at 32°F) for up to 36 hours:
- Stir fry
- Fried items
Let’s take a closer look at each one, shall we?
If you plan on consuming your leftover noodles the very next day, then you can go ahead and store them in the takeout box.
But if you plan on storing the noodles for longer then we highly recommend that you move them in an air-tight container and then store them in the fridge.
The best way to go about storing noodles would be to keep them in the fridge in Tupperware. This will keep the food good for about 3-4 days but we recommend that you not keep it longer than that.
If you want to store the food for the really long-term, we recommend putting the noodles in an air-tight container while making sure there is no moisture within the box and then storing it in the freezer.
The noodles will be good for about 4-6 weeks provided that the freezer is continuously operating at 0°F.
Noodles can easily be frozen but the trick here is to freeze them at the right time. This means that you would have to immediately store them when you get home from the restaurant.
If the food is left at room temperature for up to 12 hours, then there is a chance of bacterial growth.
Keeping stir fry in the fridge works fine as long as you plan on eating the food within 2-3 days.
This means that you would have to keep the contents in an airtight container and then store it in the fridge. Make sure you pick a good spot in the fridge – a spot that is far away from the door.
This is important because if you keep the food near the door or on the door shelf then the food would be exposed to a lot of temperature differences, allowing for bacteria to grow slowly but steadily.
A good spot is near the back of the fridge and at the top where the fan is.
You can also freeze stir fry in the same way as regular noodles. Move them to an airtight container and keep them in the freezer set at 0°F.
Soups can be treated and stored as you would other broths, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Chicken corn soup without ketchup or other thickeners can fare well in the fridge and the freezer but you may want to keep it in an airtight glass or plastic container just to be sure.
Soups are easy to store and can last a long time in the freezer.
You can keep soup in the fridge for about 2-3 days. Soup in the freezer usually lasts up to 3 months if kept properly and if the temperature has remained the same throughout the time period.
Fried items fare the worst when it comes to storing options. The problem is, once the food is fried it is permeated with oil and if the food is breaded, then it can become soggy once it has been left out for too long.
For fried items, it is best to store them in the fridge and to consume them as soon as possible. If you leave them out for too long, they will lose their crunch and will start to taste stale because of the deteriorating exterior.
This doesn’t mean that your food is going bad. Well, it’s not becoming unsafe anyway. But you may not enjoy eating it as much.
It’s just how fried items are once exposed to oil and mixed with air. The best way to store fried food is to keep it in the fridge in an air-tight container overnight and then consume it the next day.
Sure, you can store it in the fridge too but it’s a hassle to refry or reheat them and you may not always get the right results. So it is just better to consume them as soon as possible.
Rice follows the same storage instructions as noodles.
In fact, rice and noodles (chow mein) are some of the most popular takeaways and most leftover foods in Chinese cuisine. This isn’t surprising given their serving size and their ability to be filling.
Rice can be stored in the fridge for about 3-4 days, provided that they are just vegetable fried rice.
But rice with protein (a.k.a. meat) can be stored together in the fridge for about 2-3 days but we recommend that you consume them as soon as possible.
Rice can also be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months and can be reheated easily too.
We will discuss how each of these Chinese leftovers can be reheated and how the same strategy can be applied to other Chinese dishes too.
How to Reheat Chinese Food
Reheating food will require you to understand a few basic concepts of freezing and thawing food.
First, when you freeze food, the moisture in the fridge will create small ice crystals within the food that create tightly packed bonds.
Additionally, when you freeze food, it releases a lot of moisture from the food, too, which mixes with the cold air and forms more ice crystals.
On the macro level, you see this as the solidifying of the exterior and then the interior. So, when you reheat food, you will have to break down these ice crystals and melt them, releasing water, which mixes again with the food.
For most foods, this isn’t an issue. For example, you can freeze soup until it’s rock hard, then reheat it by adding it to a pot with some water in it.
Reheating Rice And Noodles
Similarly, you can reheat rice, noodles, and other dishes the same way too.
For rice and noodles, we recommend giving them a light spray of water before you microwave them. This will allow the food to rehydrate and also protect it from over-drying when you put them in the microwave.
Thaw the food first before heating it, but avoid leaving it in the open at room temperature. You can either move the food from the freezer to the fridge overnight. Or you can directly thaw it in the microwave.
Reheating Fried Foods
Reheating fried food becomes tough. Because, as mentioned earlier, once the food is fried, the exterior starts to oxidize in the open air.
While you can get away with keeping the fried items in the fridge for 1-2 days and then refrying them, you may not get the results you want if you deep freeze them.
Reheating Other Foods
This rehydrating and reheating strategy can extend to every Chinese dish (except for fried food).
For thick sauces and gravies, we recommend adding in some water. Then heat the food over a stove so that the starch in the food loosens up and mixes equally with the rest of the food.
You can also do this step using a microwave. We recommend mixing the food every minute or two, so that it becomes thin again. Keep mixing it until it is completely homogeneous, you may add water incrementally using a tablespoon.
If you’re a visual learner, try this hack for reheating Chinese food in 5 minutes:
FYI, you can substitute “grill” with “stove”!
Things To Keep In Mind When Storing Chinese Food
As mentioned above, storing food at the right time can be the difference between disaster and success.
This is why we recommend that you store your food as soon as you get home from the restaurant or as soon as you are done eating takeout.
For example, don’t just keep the leftovers in the car and then drive around only to reach home after hours. The best way to minimize bacterial growth is to go home within the hour and freeze it immediately.
Similarly, frequently opening and closing the fridge door can subject the food to varying temperatures. While it might not feel like much, these small variances can have a huge impact on bacterial growth.
This is why we recommend that you keep your food at a constant temperature, especially if you plan on keeping it for the long term.
How To Tell If Chinese Food Has Gone Bad
The easiest signs your food has gone bad is fungal growth or a funky smell.
Before you consume stored Chinese food, it’s important to first inspect it. You will want to check the food for any slime, growths, or a foul odor.
This can be easy to see for fridge-stored food since it’s pliable and easily discernible.
For example, to tell if your rice leftover has gone bad, simply press a grain of rice with your index and thumb finger. If you notice slime or a filmy texture then this would indicate that the food has gone bad.
This can be easy to see for fridge-stored food since it’s pliable and easily discernible.
For frozen food, we recommend that you first heat the food as you normally would. But keep checking it for signs of spoilage as it thaws and heats up.
If you smell anything off-putting or see anything that isn’t supposed to be there like foam, fur, or color changes then it’s best to throw it all away.
Remember, you can’t salvage spoiled food no matter how little of it has spoiled. If you see bacterial growth at one corner then it’s safe to say that the food has been compromised and it’s extremely recommended to throw it all out.
It’s not worth the risk to your health.
Leaving food over the counter also isn’t a great idea. Once the food cools down and comes to room temperature, it is primed for growing bacteria.
Of course, this usually takes some time, but the best way to slow down bacterial growth is to just refrigerate or freeze the food. Again, it’s not worth the risk.
Storing Chinese food is a common practice that many people do, but only a few truly know how to store it properly.
Improper storage may result in bacterial growth that could cause health problems. Plus, it’s pretty gross.
We highly recommend that you refrigerate Chinese food within 3 hours after it has been served, and ideally less than an hour after you finish eating, to ensure as little bacterial growth as possible.
Refrigerating your food at 32 F or freezing it at 0 F is the best way to ensure your safety, as is outlined by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Remember, you should consume food stored in air-tight containers in the fridge within 2-3 days. You can go up to 3 months when freezing food if done the right way.
Nothing is worth more than your health. So when in doubt, just throw it out!
Can I Keep Leftover Food Overnight On The Counter?
Leaving fresh food out on the counter overnight is not recommended. It is likely to go bad by the next morning, especially if you live in a hot and humid environment.
Even if you live somewhere dry and cool, do not take the risk and consume food that has been stored over the counter for more than 12 hours.
Can I Reheat Soup And Rice The Same Way?
You can more or less reheat both soup and rice the same way, although both may require slightly different techniques.
For rice, you can splash a bit of water and reheat it over the stove until fresh and fragrant.
For soups, pour a bit of water at the base of the pot. Then put in the frozen block of soup. Put the stove on low heat and let it melt. You may increase the temperature to bring it to a boil too.