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Photographs by Felicia Perry Trujillo
There’s a general consensus that leftover takeout food isn’t always the most attractive option for the next day’s lunch or dinner. But there are lots of great ways to make your leftover meal last and taste just as good—if not better—than on the day you ordered it. We asked local chefs and restauranteurs for some of their tried and true tips for making the most out of takeout food, including how long different foods keep and how certain tricky foods should be reheated for the best result. Since we’re all going to be stuck at home for a while, we want to be sure you’ll look forward to eating takeout leftovers long after you’ve made that initial order.
When it comes to reheating food, The Kitchen’s consulting chef Bobby McFarland says that the best way to reheat a dish is to cook it the way it was originally prepared. For example, pizza should be reheated in the oven (at 425 degrees, according to Jon Garrison of Lilly’s Pizza) and stir-frys and pasta should go in a hot pan with oil or butter. McFarland suggests reheating deep-fried foods such as fried chicken, wings or French fries in a hot oven at around 425 degrees to crisp them back up. Wet or soft dishes—such as soup—can easily be reheated in the microwave, but Melanie Dunia, an executive chef at Empire Eats, likes to put leftover soup in a pot on the stove with a little extra water or broth to prevent any ingredients from drying out.
When it comes to mac and cheese, Sharon May, owner of Relish—a restaurant celebrated for its delectable mac and cheese skillets—says that big portions of mac and cheese should go in the oven to ensure the mac and cheese is heated evenly without any need to stir; small portions taste just as good reheated in the microwave. Mac and cheese, and pizza, are great leftovers because they can last up to seven days in the fridge and freeze well.
Burgers and other sandwiches are some of the most tricky foods to reheat, given their combination of cold and hot ingredients. Keep them around for up to three days before tossing. McFarland advises taking the burger apart, removing any cold ingredients such as lettuce or tomato, and heating the bun and burger side by side in the oven. You can also try May’s trick of reheating the bun in a sandwich bag in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, which steams the bun and makes it moist again. Rice can also be tough to reheat as it tends to get brittle when it’s left in the fridge. McFarland likes to make his leftover rice into fried rice, which makes a good base for other leftover foods such as sautéed vegetables and chicken.
While leftover seafood might not sound like the most appetizing option, chef Oscar Diaz of The Cortez assures that it can still be good. But only keep raw seafood, such as ceviche, for one to two days in the fridge as fish begins to denature and become mealy; cooked seafood can last three to four days. Diaz’s preferred method for reheating cooked seafood is in a toaster oven on low, or covered in a regular oven. Separate any cold toppings or base ingredients and reheat any sauces in a sauté pan.
You don’t always have to re-prepare leftovers the same way you got them. Turn a plain steak into a hearty steak and eggs breakfast or chop it up for a sandwich. Pork, chicken and other meats also make great fillings for sandwiches, says McFarland. Get creative with cheese, bread and any other ingredients you have on hand in your fridge or pantry. Diaz likes to repurpose leftover seafood in dishes such as stir fry, stew, soup or in an omelette. When preparing seafood in this way, add it in at the last minute to avoid losing texture. Chef Eric Montagne of Locals Oyster Bar likes to get creative with his seafood leftovers. He recommends turning leftover fish into a fish salad or mixing it with bread crumbs and seasonings to make fish cakes.
Keep, Freeze or Toss?
A general rule of thumb when it comes to leftovers is to keep them in the fridge for three to seven days, depending on the food (meats are on the three-day end, while most vegetable and pasta dishes can last up to seven days). If there are any signs of mold, no matter how many days have passed, definitely toss. Most foods can also be frozen, usually either in covered, glass storage containers or in sealed ziplock bags with all air removed. A good tip is to cut things like pizza or bread into individual portions first and seal separately.
Re-Prep Your Takeout
Bake at 425 degrees for five to 10 minutes or until heated through.
MAC AND CHEESE
Bake large portions in a lightly oiled or buttered baking dish at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. For small portions, microwave in a microwave-safe bowl with a splash of milk, covered loosely with plastic wrap, for about one minute.
FRIED FOOD (fried chicken, French fries, etc.)
Bake at at least 425—and up to 500 degrees—for about five to 10 minutes, checking every two minutes, until golden and crispy.
Let burger come to room temperature, then separate patty from bun and condiments. Bake the patty on a metal rack at 400 degrees for two to three minutes on each side. Optional: Heat the bun in a sandwich bag in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, then place in the oven when flipping the patty. Reassemble the burger.
Cover with foil and bake on a rimmed pan at 275 degrees for 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 125 to 130 degrees.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Raleigh Magazine April Takeout Special
If you order takeout from one of these locally-owned Raleigh restaurants you’ll get a free copy of our April issue in your to-go bag!
The Butcher’s Market
Carolina Ale House
Dram & Draught
Driftwood Kitchen & Bar
Edwards Mill Bar & Grill
La Farm Bakery
Poppyseed Market Cafe & Wine Bar
Post Nosh Catering
Relish Craft Kitchen & Bourbon Bar
St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar
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