Saving Money…Best Ways to Reheat Leftovers

Go ahead. Grimace. Leftover night…the dreaded night where vivid memories of 5th grade Cafeteria Mystery Meat invade your brain as you choke down the last of whatever-that-was that was just pulled from the microwave.

But, take heart! When reheated correctly, leftovers can be just as good…if not better…than the day they were made. Remember this: many restaurants prepare some their food ahead of time and simply reheat the dish when ordered. I’m sure you’ve never accused a restaurant of serving you leftovers, so why not have the same experience at home?

First, there are some things that just do not reheat well no matter what you do:

  • Vegetables
    • Most leftover vegetables reheat fine texturally (as long as they’re cooked al dente to start with), but the issue here is nutrient loss. Even when serving a meal of leftovers, you should strive to steam or saute your vegetables fresh.
  • French Fries
    • I’ve tried everything. Sadly, one of my favorite foods just does not hold itself well to reheating. If you must, you can reheat them in a hot (450 degree) oven for a few minutes, but they will never really taste the same. 
  • Fish
    • Sorry, call me a fish snob, but reheating fish is at the top of my culinary pet peeve list. One, the smell. Two, the texture. It can become very dry and has that “fish” smell. Wonderful, however, for office practical jokes. Throw in some broccoli as well if you really hate your co-workers.

Luckily, most dishes do reheat well. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Rice
    • The best way to reheat cooked rice (unless you’re cooking Fried Rice), is simply to steam it. Place the rice in a pot’s steamer basket with a small amount of water at the bottom of the pot (making sure the water does not touch the rice). Steam for 2-3 minutes or until hot. As long as you don’t overcook it, the rice should remain firm and fluffy.
  • Pasta
    • I like to keep my sauce separate from my pasta when I cook/store it. If I know I will have leftovers, I also cook my pasta al dente, or 1 minute before it’s done. It should have a “bite” to it still. If you have plain noodles, take a TBS or two of water and set it to boil in a frying pan or skillet. Add noodles, and cook, stirring often, until pasta is heated through. Ideally, you will have heated up any leftover sauce separately in a saucepan while the pasta was cooking, and you can toss sauce with noodles.
    • If your sauce and pasta are already combined, you can reheat it on the stove in a frying pan or skillet, just don’t add any extra water, and cook on medium instead of high to avoid burning the sauce. 
  • Pizza
    • I love love love cold pizza. I’m not one who likes savory breakfasts, but I would rather have cold pizza for breakfast than cinnamon rolls. Okay, maybe not. Cinnamon rolls have my heart. And the extra 12 pounds on my thighs. So, that’s how I feel about cold pizza. If you truly must reheat your pizza, put it on a pizza stone or pizza crisper (or a baking sheet) and bake it for 450 degrees for about 5-10 minutes or until hot. 
  • Soups
    • Reheat soups in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm. If your soup is served with pasta or noodles, try to keep the noodles separate and throw in at the last minute. You don’t want to overcook the noodles, or you will end up with a soggy mess that absorbs too much liquid from your soup.
  • Steak, Chicken, Pork, Casseroles
    •  As I mentioned, many restaurants will cook their meals ahead of time, only to reheat them when you order. Since the food is already cooked, they want to reheat the food without recooking it. This requires a hot oven and a short amount of time. Steaks, chicken (pieces, not whole), pork (pieces not a roast), and casseroles can be reheated on a cookie sheet in a 450-475 degree oven. Meat will take around 3-5 minutes, and casseroles will take around 10 minutes. This high heat method ensures you are not recooking the food (which results in that leftovery, soggy leftover stereotype), merely reheating it.
  • Shredded Meats
    • Shredded meats can dry out very quickly, so you want to make sure to retain some moisture. Shredded chicken or beef can be heated in a frying pan or skillet with a small amount of either water or broth/stock.
  • Mashed Potatoes
    • Reheat mashed potatoes in a saucepan over medium-low heat. You may need to add more milk to ensure a creamy consistency. Stir often until warm.

NOTE: Make sure to reheat all leftovers to 160 degrees to ensure food safety.

You can reheat most leftovers to keep the integrity of their original state. By learning the best way to reheat meals, leftover night becomes more exciting, and less of a chore.

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