One of my favorite dinners as a kid was “leftover night," when my parents would resurrect the greatest hits from the previous week.
Only now do I realize they were not only serving me delicious encores, they were also saving money on grocery bills.
By high school I was a leftover epicure. I knew which leftover dishes were better cold (lo mein and pizza), which improved when microwaved (stews and chilis), and how to morph certain leftovers into a totally different dish, even better than the first.
Here are six of my favorite recyclable meals:
1. Steak and Potatoes. Reheated steak is not a good thing. But when you dine at a steakhouse, they always serve too much, leaving you with a meat hangover. Don’t gorge yourself. Take half your meal home, and use the leftovers to make breakfast hash.
Heat some oil in a skillet or on a flat top griddle, and add cooked potatoes and chopped onions. Flatten the potatoes to get a nice crispy edge, add Worcestershire, ketchup and hot sauce. Next, add chopped up steak (or bits of chorizo, cooked bacon, or corned beef), and warm through. Top the hash with a poached egg, which will make a drippy gooey sauce and bring the dish together.
2. Lasagna. Experts and home cooks agree that lasagna is definitely a second-day dish. The CEO of Moles, Inc. (aka stay-at-home mom) Jennifer Moles cooks for her family every night: “Lasagna is a bit too runny when you first make it, but is just the right consistency after it's had time to settle.”
Cook book editor and gourmet chef Sara Newberry agrees. “On the first night lasagna always seems too liquid-y…after one night in the fridge it's always better,” she says.
3. The Leftover Sandwich. Everyone knows that the best meal of Thanksgiving weekend isn’t Thursday supper, but Friday lunch, where you slather one piece of toast with mayo, another with cranberry sauce, and fill the space between with leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy.
Other roasted meats lend themselves to leftover sandwiches, including leftover roast chicken and beef. And let’s not forget about the classic Cuban sandwich, which combines leftover roast pork loin, pickles, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, all pressed until the bread is toasty and the cheese melty.
4. Breakfast Pie. I’m always baffled as to why we serve pies after dinner to people who are so stuffed they “only want a sliver.” That’s why I take my pie when I am at my hungriest: Breakfast. If it’s perfectly acceptable to have coffee cake, donuts or strudel for breakfast, why can’t I enjoy a nice big slice of blueberry pie? At least it has fruit.
5. Sauces, Stews, Chili & Brisket. “Stews like beef stew, and coq au vin work really well as leftovers because the flavors set in. Also, most tomato-based dishes, like pasta sauces, are generally better," says food writer Lauren Shockey.
“Chili is better the next day," Newberry says, "especially if you make it the night before a camping trip and have it outside. I think all matter of stews taste better the next day, and better still on day three.”
I like to make brisket a day ahead. When cooked, brisket is so tender that it’s best to chill before slicing. When you reheat the sliced meat, it has bathed in the sauce, maximizing flavor. And let’s not forget the Leftover Brisket Sandwich on day three.
6. Rice. Though Americans tend to throw out leftover rice, our global friends know better. After all, what’s fried rice but stir-fried leftover white rice with sliced scallions, pork and shrimp, peas, soy sauce and sesame oil? Better than the first time, for sure.
Italians make rice balls by shaping leftover risotto into little golf balls, stuffing it with a piece of cheese, covering it with breadcrumbs and deep frying it until the outside is crisp and the inside is gooey.