Sometimes it’s really easy to get excited about leftovers (pizza! greasy noodles!) and other times, they can be less appetizing because your reheat method (hello, microwave) leaves them sad, limp and, well, nuked. Plus, if you don’t do it right, you could fall victim to food-borne illnesses. But leftovers need to be delicious—and safe—because food waste is a huge environmental hazard. Fortunately, they can be; all you have to do is flash them.
Flash cooking simply entails heating food at a very high temperature for a very short period of time. “Usually you’ll want to quickly flash in a pan,” says Lou Oates, a former chef at Little Pine in Los Angeles and a freelance restaurant consultant. With that said, it depends on what you’re trying to reheat. Dishes such as stir fry and noodle dishes are best in a pan, but larger items that were baked to begin with—a lasagna, for example—should go in the oven. And if you are reheating something thicker, like an animal protein, it’s best to slice it into smaller pieces and sauté it in a pan with a sauce to keep it from drying out.
Flash cooking simply entails heating food at a very high temperature for a very short period of time.
To flash leftovers quickly on the stove, heat a sauté pan with a little oil over medium-high heat, add the leftovers, and quickly toss. “Four to five minutes should do it,” Oates says. “Ensure the contents of the pan are piping hot.” To flash in the oven instead, she suggests heating it to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and throwing your leftovers in for 15 to 20 minutes, or until hot. Either way, be sure to evenly cook everything—so don’t pile one food on top of another, for example.
A quick safety note: You’ll want to try to avoid reheating something multiple times, as each time you take it out of the fridge it enters the danger zone in which bacteria can grow. According to the USDA, this is at temperatures between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you accidentally left something out for two hours or more, do not try to reheat and consume it.
Overall, pretty simple, right? And no nuking involved. But if you’re still the type who’s hard to convince to put leftovers anywhere but the trash—second-day food is still never the same!—Oates offers a few tips for bringing them back to life below.
How to jazz up your leftovers so you’ll actually want to eat them
Oates recommends thinking first and foremost about what you might do with the leftovers of a dish before you order it. “Always pay extra attention to the sides,” she says. “If there are steamed vegetables, grains, or slaws, that spark your interest, order extra and refrigerate them.”
2. Keep your cupboards stocked with condiments and seasonings
“Condiments make an easy and delicious addition to any meal—Sriracha, hot sauce, mustard, tahini, tamari, salsa, and miso to name a few,” says Oates. “Be adventurous and contemplate how you can pack some flavor into your inventions.” Garnishes, she notes, are also your friend.
3. Make it Mexican
Oates, a Mexican food enthusiast, says her leftovers almost always end up in taco or burrito form. So, she suggests you keep tortillas on hand at all times. “A firm favorite in our home is to sauté leftover vegetables with onion and garlic, add some seasoning such as chipotle and cumin, and throw it in a tortilla along with some rice or quinoa, salsa, cilantro, avocado, and fresh radishes,” she says.
4. Soup it up
“Soup is a quick and easy leftover hack and you can utilize nearly any and all components to make something delicious,” says Oates. She recommends keeping broth or bouillon powder on hand at all times so you can easily make a stock. “To add a little finesse to your soup, think about the garnishes—whether that be a dollop of yogurt, some fresh herbs, or perhaps toasted seeds,” she says.
5. A classic sammy works, too
Sandwiches are one of the quickest and easiest ways to breathe new life into your leftovers. And while Oates notes that there are many different variables for construction, she believes keeping a good sourdough bread on hand can really make or break the whole endeavor. She’s also careful to keep cheese—in her case, vegan—in the fridge to toss on top. “We’re quite partial to making open-faced sandwiches with whatever leftovers we happen to have, and we love to finish it under the grill to get a delicious gooeyness from the cheese,” she says.
7. Turn dull leftover rice into something you’d actually order
“One of our favorite dishes to make with leftover rice—which we always seem to have—is a quick, easy, and delicious kimchi fried rice dish,” says Oates. “Start by flash frying the rice. Then in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add a little sesame oil, throw in the rice, kimchi, tamari, and Sriracha and sauté for four to five minutes, until thoroughly hot and the rice is a little crispy in places. Top with mounds of fresh green onions, black sesame, and a sprinkling of togarashi powder.”