9 Ways to Reheat Leftovers to Perfection
If you're batch cooking while sheltering in place, we're here to share our best tips for excellent microwaved leftovers. Wave goodbye to the days of dry steak, exploding hot fudge sauce, and half-cold spaghetti. Perfect microwaved leftovers are here to satisfy your quick meal cravings.
Know Your Microwave
Knowing your microwave's wattage helps. A compact model can run from 650 to 950 watts, while a larger oven can range from 1000 to 1,650 watts. The lower the wattage, the slower and more uneven the cooking will be. Aim for around 1,000 watts or more, if you have the space on your countertop.
If you don't know your microwave wattage and you really want to get scientific, follow the recommendations of Amy Sherman, author of A Microwave, A Mug, A Meal. Fill a microwave-safe glass measuring cup with one liter of tap water. Stir the water with a thermometer for 10 seconds and check the temperature — the water should be between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Now remove the thermometer and place the measuring cup with the water in the microwave oven. Microwave for 33 seconds at full power. Remove the cup from the microwave and test the temperature again. Subtract the original number from the new number. Multiply that number by 100 and that is the wattage of your microwave.
Learn Your Power Levels
Is your soup constantly bubbling over, while your morning oats explode like a messy volcano? Your problem is most likely a case of overly-high power levels. "People tend to use preset buttons rather than learn how to set the power, which is adjustable by percentages," Sherman says. If you get to know your particular microwave's tendencies by testing at 10 percent, 20 percent and so on of total power, you'll learn the right setting so that your stew doesn't bubble over, cheese sauce doesn't explode, and popcorn doesn't get scorched.
Start With A Clean Microwave
If you're smelling food odors on your nuked takeout, it's time to rid the microwave of any odors with our easy cleaning guide. To get rid of splatters, zap a concoction of one cup water and one cup white vinegar in the offending microwave and bring it to a boil on high, this should take about three minutes. Let that bowl of vinegar water sit in the microwave for five minutes, and the steam will help loosen splatters for an easier clean-up.
Consider Your Food
Be aware that moist items heat much more successfully, so the existing level of moistness will determine how much water you sprinkle on your leftovers. While a soup or stew likely needs no added moisture, a bowl of rice, stir-fry, or lasagna can all benefit from a sprinkle of water from a spoon or your fingers before microwaving.
If you're reheating leftovers that were baked or fried, however, they're probably intended to be crisp. When you're reheating foods like these, place a microwave-safe cup half full of water next to your dish in the microwave to suck up any moisture that would otherwise dampen your crispy food.
Think About the Container
The colder your container is, the longer it will take to heat the food. If you grab a saran wrap-covered bowl straight from the fridge and pop it into the microwave, you may need to add a little extra time. The shape and size of your container matter too. Sherman says that the closed space of a mug can turbocharge cooking. She recommends using a mug when you're pressed for time, to make everything from chocolate cake to meatloaf.
Spread Your Food Out
If your food is lumped together, it can be difficult for the food in the interior (say, the noodles at the center of your spaghetti) to heat properly, especially if it has just come from the fridge or the freezer. One trick you can try is putting a crater or well in the center of your food so that the center doesn't come out cold. For thicker foods like steak, Sherman recommends slicing into thin pieces. "For steak, I would slice it thinly and spread it out evenly on a plate, then cover it with microwave safe plastic wrap or lid or parchment paper," she says. "Then I'd heat quickly at a fairly low power so as not to overcook it." The same goes for french fries. Though a microwave isn't ideal for fries (we prefer the air fryer for that), you can try this method: Coat your fries with a little grape seed or canola oil, place them on a microwave-safe paper towel on a microwave-safe plate, and test out ten to twenty-second increments for heating.
Cover Your Meal
Okay, now that you're actually ready to slide those leftovers into the microwave, you need to do one thing: cover it. In most cases (excepting french fries and other things you want to stay crispy), a microwave-safe cover will only enhance the heating process, keeping moisture in and preventing splatters. You can sprinkle water on certain dishes to keep them moist, and then the cover will do the rest of the work.
Don't Walk Away
Don't just press the "2 Minutes" button and walk away thinking you'll be back on time to check it at 1:50 minutes. Everyone knows to use a microwave turntable so that food is heated evenly, but microwaves are often unpredictable because their work depends on the food's consistency. If you're heating for say, two minutes total, stop the microwave every twenty to thirty seconds to mix the contents and check your food. If you stir, food will come out not only more evenly heated, but heated faster. And as an extra precaution against soggy food, you can always open the microwave door to release some steam prior to closing it again for a second heat.
Sherman says to allow carryover heat to do some of the work. "Undercook rather than overcook," she says. "Some recipes call for resting time." So don't hesitate to take your food out a little early, and if you need to add more heat, do so in small increments, like 10 to 20 seconds.