This is a subject very near and dear to my heart. And one that is a delicate art to master.
“Bein’ rich is having leftovers. Good leftovers make yo’ tongue fly outta yo’ mouth and smack yo’ brains out.” -Paula Deen
I am a big believer of leftovers. It’s cost and time efficient. Excellent. But…if not done right, you can be left feeling unsatisfied and like you’ve wasted food. And anyone who knows me knows wasting food is a very grave sin punishable only by a violent death.
So, I would like to share with you some do’s and don’ts about leftovers. Spoiler alert: I’m going to go ahead and tell you that the microwave is absolutely not a go-to reheat option. If you’ve been using it as such, then I ask you to settle a bet for me:
Most likely, leftovers from the microwave are dry, bland, soggy, mushy, stinky, crusty…you get the idea. They are generally unpleasant, and they seem to come out sub-par. That delicious lo mein is now gummy. That Chicken Fresca is now dry and flavorless. Those steamed veggies are now over-cooked and soggy.
Behold! I bring you good tidings and joy: LIFE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS! Refer to the #4 on this list to see the other methods for re-heating all your favorite foods. You might be surprised by what works.
The 4 Commandments of Leftovers
1) Promptly refrigerate or freeze perishable leftovers
Did you know that illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them? (And if the temperature is 90 ˚F or higher, cut that time down to one hour.) Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness. I got food poisoning about 2 months ago (from Taco Bell…go figure), and I would like to save everyone from that 24-hour hellish nightmare.
2) Know when to throw your food out
You can’t tell just by looking or smelling whether harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods. Here are a few steps you can take to store and reheat your leftovers safely:
- Place leftovers in shallow containers. Refrigerate (40 °F or below) or freeze the cooked poultry and stuffing within two hours after cooking.
- Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days; frozen food within four months.
- Find out how long to store leftovers by checking out this Safe Storage Times chart.
3) Re-heat leftovers thoroughly…
When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165° F. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food. I don’t always do this with other foods, but I’m pretty religious with checking temperatures with any meat.
- Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.
- Cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.
- Thaw frozen leftovers safely in the refrigerator or the microwave oven. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
4) …and re-heat leftovers properly (so just forget the microwave)
Note the things in italics. That is to emphasize where you’ve probably been microwaving [*shudder*], you should have been using something else. Some popular meals I re-heat, and how I re-heat them:
use toaster (also goes for chicken cutlets)
[STEWS and SOUPS]
use stove, stir slowly over medium heat
Heat oven to 400 degrees, then spread potatoes on a sheet pan and cover them in tin foil. Roast until warmed through, about 10–15 minutes, then uncovered for 5 more minutes to crisp up.
–bake in oven 350 degrees, 8-10 min OR
– heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Drop your slice in (dough side down, duh), then cover the pan for about 3–4 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Then uncover and cook until the crust is crispy, about 2–3 minutes more.
Toss in skillet for about 10 minutes
I would type out what I do, but who doesn’t prefer an infographic to text?
Put in a saucepan and add a splash of water. Heat over medium-high until the rice starts to sizzle. Stir to incorporate and warm the rice for about a minute, then cover pot and let steam off the heat for 5 minutes, until fluff
For any other kinds of food I didn’t mention, you can refer to this site for more ideas and details. Also, a pretty safe go-to is re-heating meals at 350 for about 10 min for refrigerated leftovers and 20-25 min for frozen leftovers.
If you follow these commandments of leftovers, I guarantee that you will get more satisfaction out of your 3 extra chicken wings or mom’s to-go piece of apple pie. And if you don’t do leftovers, then you should start out developing good habits with these. Just for the love of all that is good and holy, LEAVE THE MICROWAVE FOR EASY MAC.
May you make the most of what you have