Even if you’re dipping your toe back into the local restaurant scene, dining on a patio or eating at the spaced-out tables of a neighborhood favorite, getting more carryout and delivery over the last three months has left many with a common culinary conundrum: leftovers. And whether you love a cold chicken leg the next day or think soup is better the second time around, dealing with all of the takeout containers in the fridge is rarely a welcome task. Zapping leftovers in the microwave is quick, but it often turns what was great the first time into a limp mess.
Sometimes you simply don’t want to eat the same meal two days in a row. That’s when a bit of kitchen ingenuity can help transform what was a great meal the first time around. How about turning yesterday’s half-eaten sub into a verdant salad with your own greens and dressing? Maybe a great one-dish baked dinner with leftover pasta or rice as a base? “Soup is a great outlet for repurposing leftovers,” says chef Ricky Hatfield of Ellison Brewing Co., whose pizzas, appetizer dips, and creative beer-friendly main dishes make for great next-day meals. “A grilled chicken sandwich with a pasta salad side can become a flavorful Tuscan chicken soup. Leftover meatloaf, like my duck meatloaf, can transform into quick chili with some beans and canned tomatoes. And day-old breads and sandwiches make a fantastic bread pudding, sweet or savory. I like to use old sourdough, shiitake mushrooms, and a funky blue cheese to make a stellar supper.”
Chef Neil Andrews, who helped to reopen Geraldine’s Supper Club & Lounge on June 16, where old-school steaks top the menu, says to make sure that steak or other meats come up to room temperature before searing them or reheating them. And don’t forget leftover steak with eggs or thrown into a stir-fry at the last minute. Tawana Gulley, who has been feeding hungry home-bound customers soulful dishes through her meal-prep and delivery service Black Bowè Bistro & Bakery, echoes the need to let proteins come to room temperature before reheating. For seafood, such as her tasty, lightly battered catfish, she recommends placing the fish on a foil-lined baking sheet and heating at 350 degrees until the fish comes up to about 150 degrees, around 10-15 minutes. This will also help to re-crisp the seafood.
Here are some additional tips for reheating and serving your carryout leftovers at their best:
Steak: Avoid microwaving cold leftover steak on high or throwing cooked meat into a hot pan. Wrap leftover steak in foil and heat for a few minutes in a hot oven. Then sear for 30 seconds on each side in a hot cast-iron or stainless-steel pan. Hatfield recommends brushing the steaks with a little melted butter to help restore their richness. Tacos, sandwiches, salads, and pasta can all benefit from last night’s steak dinner, but don’t slice the meat until after you’ve reheated it. This will help retain as much moisture as possible in the steak.
Pizza: While cold pizza may be the breakfast of champions, nothing beats gooey strings of melted cheese even on the most everyday takeout pie. However, microwaves are the true enemy of leftover pizza, rendering the crust soggy or tough. An oven can bring back the chewy, crispy qualities of pizza, but you may lose patience. Instead, heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high and lightly coat the pan with olive oil. Place the slices of pizza in the pan and heat until the crust is starting to get crisp on the bottom. Place a lid on the pan, reduce heat slightly, and continue to warm until the cheese is bubbly and melted. A little salsa or a dusting of parmesan can make the pizza taste even more like the day you ordered it.
Rice: Stuck with loads of extra rice from Asian takeout? Don’t quarantine it to the back of the refrigerator to be discovered weeks later. Fried rice is actually much better when it’s made with day-old rice, and you can repurpose almost any leftovers in this catch-all dish or use up the last bits of produce from the crisper. Add butter, stock, cream, and cheese to make a delicious facsimile of risotto. Or add evaporated milk, orange peel, vanilla, and a bit of cinnamon to make a great rice pudding.
Pasta: Plain or lightly sauced pasta freezes beautifully, especially with a small amount of water added to loosen the texture before freezing. Add leftover pasta to casseroles or crisp pasta up in a pan in the morning and serve with a fried egg for a hearty savory breakfast. To get close to the original texture, add a bit of vegetable or chicken broth, cream, or lemon juice for brightness. And while a microwave can work for pasta, you’ll get a better texture from pasta reheated in a pan on the stove.
Sandwiches and burgers: No one relishes a soggy bun or limp veggies from a leftover hoagie or burger. But don’t chuck them in the trash. Meat and cheese fillings can be revived in a small pan and served on fresh bread. Even leftover buns and rolls can sometimes be crisped up in a toaster. Also consider using fillings as pasta toppings with the bread as crispy crumbs, or make a hearty salad with sandwich meats and toast the bread into hearty croutons.
Breakfast: Weekend brunch is the true time for leftovers to shine, especially when served on some fresh local bakery bread and crowned with an egg. Here’s a luxe yet hearty suggestion with some Hoosier influences that elevates day-old items from some of our favorite spots for an elevated take on a diner classic.
Next-Day Cheesy Smoked Brisket “Biscuits” and Gravy
- 1/4–1/3 pound leftover smoked brisket with accumulated fat (from Fat Dan’s Deli, Old Gold Barbecue, or your favorite restaurant, or substitute chopped deli corned beef or leftover pulled pork)
- 2–3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon coarse-grained Dijon mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup Amelia’s Bakery charred green onion cream cheese (or other flavored cream cheese or sub plain cream cheese and 1 teaspoon minced chives)
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- Hot sauce, to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Four eggs
- Four thick slices Leviathan Bakehouse focaccia (or substitute Root & Bone angel biscuits, Love Handle scratch-made biscuits, or toasted bagels or store-bought bread)
- 2 tablespoons leftover Festiva chipotle tomato-tomatillo or ranchera salsa (or other restaurant or jarred salsa)
- Shred or chop brisket into fine pieces. Place accumulated fat from brisket with additional olive oil to equal about 3 tablespoons of fat in a medium sauce pan placed over medium heat. When fat is starting to bubble, add flour and whisk vigorously until lightly golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Add milk and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue stirring occasionally until gravy begins to thicken and bubble, about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, cayenne, cream cheese, and rosemary, and stir until cheese is incorporated. Add brisket and fold in gently. Add hot sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and keep warm, adding additional milk as needed for the desired consistency.
- Melt butter in a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When butter begins to foam, add eggs to corners of pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until whites are beginning to set, 2–3 minutes. Add a teaspoon of water to pan and cover pan, cooking until yolks are opaque but still runny. Keep warm.
- Toast slices of focaccia, bagels, or biscuits in a toaster or toaster oven. Warm salsa gently in microwave or a small pan over low heat. Place two slices of toast on two plates. Ladle brisket gravy over toast and top with eggs and salsa. Garnish with additional warmed brisket, if desired, as well as additional hot sauce. Serve.