Opening up the fridge and reheating leftovers is usually an exercise in futility. We dump it onto a plate, pop it in the microwave, wait until it’s hot, and eat it sadly, wistfully remembering its earlier days as an expertly prepared, artfully plated dish. But don’t despair: while you’ll never be able to reheat a dish to perfectly echo the way it tasted when you first ordered it, there is a way to revive it properly.
The first rule of reviving leftovers: avoid the microwave at all costs. While the microwave will reheat food, there’s very little culinary value to be found in this preparation method. Secondly, bring the food as close to room temperature as possible before reheating, so it warms evenly in the pan or oven. If you want to revive leftovers, think about how it was cooked in the first place, and then attempt to replicate that process. In the end, meat will most likely be a little overcooked, pasta may be a bit mushy, but at least you’ll have given it your all.
There are some foods that are impossible to revive to an edible state, but only a couple. Salads, for example. The minute you dress a salad, it begins to wilt. If you take a salad home, it’ll be a soggy mess within a couple hours. Either eat the salad or don’t, but don’t try to take it home—unless it’s something like kale or coleslaw, which can take a bit of wilting. Also, steaks simply cannot be brought back to steakhouse condition. There are ways to repurpose them, but don’t expect steakhouse steak to resemble its original self after three days in the refrigerator.
The good news is that most foods can be brought back from their refrigerated purgatory with very little effort. All it takes is a minor amount of knowledge of how the dish was originally cooked. Certain foods, like pizza, are a little trickier. Thankfully, we’re living in an era where hours of research have been spent on important information like how to properly reheat pizza.
So read on to learn how to bring just about every category of leftover back from the dead. And remember: only use the microwave as a last resort!
If you’re trying to reheat a burger, the first step is to break it down into its components. The lettuce and tomato are most likely soggy goners: toss them. The bread might also be soggy; if you can swap it out with a fresh bun, you definitely should. As for the burger patty itself, let it come to room temperature, scrape the excess bun, cheese, and other toppings off of it, then sear it in a hot pan on both sides until heated through, but no longer (if you’d like, add a slice of cheese, then cover the pan for 30 seconds). It’ll most likely be closer to medium-well than medium-rare, but if there’s any pink left in a reheated burger you should consider it a victory.
Got half a burrito left over? Putting it in the microwave will leave you with a soggy mess. Here’s what to do instead: Wrap it in aluminum foil and heat it in a pan for about 15 minutes with a weight on top of it, flipping it every few minutes (this will yield a nicely browned tortilla), or wrap it in aluminum foil and stick it into a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. In either case, it’s important to let the burrito come to room temperature, or else it won’t heat evenly.