Turkey is synonymous with the Thanksgiving feast, but its low price, savory flavor and high-quality protein make it an ideal choice for family meals year-round. How you store, thaw and cook chopped turkey can make a big difference in both the taste of the finished dish and how safe it is. No matter how you cook turkey, don't leave it on the counter top to thaw -- which can breed bacteria -- and refrigerate leftovers promptly.
You may have chopped and frozen the turkey yourself, or bought it that way. Home cooks often chop and stash extra cooked turkey in the freezer after a holiday meal for later use. Commercial producers sometimes sell bagged frozen turkey chunks. These turkey chunks might be raw or cooked. Raw turkey chunks taste fresher when prepared, but precooked chopped turkey is ideal for fast meals. Precooked chopped turkey works best for savory, well-seasoned dishes, such as turkey pot pie or turkey salad, because the extra ingredients moisten it and add flavor.
Commercially prepared bags of frozen, cooked turkey breast are often labeled as safe to use directly from the bag without thawing the turkey first. If you'd like to thaw chopped frozen turkey before using it, though, follow one of the three methods recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The preferred method is to keep frozen turkey in a refrigerator until thawed, which might take from 12 to 72 hours, depending on the size of the container or bag. Place the bag in another container so water and juices don't drip in the fridge. Turkey thawed this way can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Another method is to thaw frozen chopped turkey in water. Soak a bag or container of turkey in cold water, replacing the cold water every 30 minutes, until the turkey is thawed, which typically takes one to six hours. Microwaving the turkey on a defrost setting is another option. However, this method can cause dryness and uneven cooking. Turkey thawed using the cold water or microwave method should be cooked immediately.
Chopped turkey can be cooked in a myriad of ways. Add precooked turkey to simmering pots of broth and vegetables for a satisfying soup, or stir it into casseroles and bake it. Frozen turkey makes an affordable, lean alternative to chicken and can replace chicken in most dishes. Bake it with rice, cream soup, cheese and broccoli, or add it to wild rice pilaf. To cook frozen raw turkey before adding it to a dish, poach it in simmering water or place it in a casserole dish. Season it; add a bit of broth to keep it moist, and cover it with foil. Bake the turkey for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear and the flesh is white or light brown, rather than pink. The slow cooker gives you another method for preparing frozen raw chopped turkey. Place the turkey in the slow cooker; add seasoning and broth, and cook on low for several hours. The turkey comes out tender and moist and ready for any recipe.
Although a whole turkey can be stored in the freezer for up to one year, chopped turkey has a shorter storage time because more of it is exposed to air, making it more vulnerable to freezer burn. For best results, wrap cooked chopped turkey tightly in freezer wrap or place it in a plastic bag designed for freezer storage. Push out as much of the air as possible. Label the package with the date and use it within one month. Commercially packaged frozen chopped turkey can remain in the freezer for six to nine months with no loss in quality.