My friend Marisa is the most rockin’ mommy I know. Besides my own mom, if I had to pick a mommy idol to imitate when my child-bearing years arrive, she would be up there! Long blonde locks, still teaching and performing guitar, running a household (of all dudes!), freelancing, and of course a body that looks as if no infants ever inhabited it (weird word choice?).
She, like other moms, dads, college students, young professionals, etc., finds time to prepare food for herself and her family (which I LOVE!), but that time isn’t always immediately before the food is consumed. Such was the nature of a text I received from her recently, asking for the best, tastiest, safest method of reheating chicken and roasted veggies for dinner. I know there are others out there with the same question, so I wanted to write up a quick summary of my thoughts on the process, and open it up to comments to see what everyone else is doing.
Quick reminder: I’m sending out a mini eBook of a one week summer dinner plan to all subscribers on August 8th. Sign up above on the right to make sure you get it! The plan features 4 dinners with many advance prep options.
Chicken (or other poultry)
Unlike fish, it’s unsafe to partially cook chicken and later complete the cooking process while reheating, so thoroughly cook your chicken to 160 degrees (F), whatever method you use. To avoid drying out the already cooked chicken, the key is to reheat it at low temperatures, which can take just as long in the oven or on the stove as it took to prepare in the first place. That said, I actually recommend microwaving pre-cooked chicken if your goal is speed and convenience.
- Cook chicken to 160 degrees (F) using your preferred method. The least active of these is to rub whole parts with olive oil and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook at 350 in the oven, usually for 30 to 45 minutes.
- If time permits, pull chicken from the fridge up to 30 minutes before reheating. Taking the chill off will help it heat faster. However, don’t let cooked chicken sit out in abnormally high room temperatures (e.g., no A/C in the summer).
- Microwave chicken at 50% to 70% power. For cut “chunks” or very thin cutlets, check every 30 seconds. For boneless breasts or other whole parts, use 45 second intervals. Stir or flip over between intervals. If your chicken is quite dry, use a lower power level next time.
- If you want to use the oven (i.e., if you’re home but don’t want to be actively cooking), preheat to around 225 degrees (F). Place chicken on a wire rack in a sheet pan or on a broiler pan if you have one, so the bottom doesn’t get greasy and soggy sitting in its own juices. Cover the pan with foil to help keep moisture inside, and place the pan in the lower or upper third of the oven where it’s warmer than right in the middle. For small or thin chicken pieces, heat for 15 minutes before checking; for larger pieces, start with 20 minutes.
There’s only so much you can do when strictly heating food, so if you want to mix up your same old weekday lunch or dinner, try using different spices or sauces. The basic formula is olive oil, salt, and pepper, but for a change, add cayenne, paprika, chili powder, or a combination or cumin and oregano just before cooking, as a rub or mixed with salt. You can also try a simple marinade. Drop the raw chicken in a heavy duty ZipLock bag with a marinade from 30 minutes up to a half day before cooking. A pre-made marinade works fine (check ingredients for excessive sugar or chemical additives) or use a simple blend of vegetable or olive oil, citrus juice, a splash of soy sauce, a smashed garlic clove, a little honey or maple syrup, and some pepper. All natural and easy! Just pull from and dispose of the marinade before cooking as usual.
Vegetables will afford you a little more grace when cooking and reheating. For starters, you can safely cook them slightly less done (more crisp on the inside) than your ultimate goal. That way, when reheating, you can use full power or higher temperatures and the result won’t be mushy, overcooked broccoli. I frequently roast large pans of carrots, broccoli, or squash all at once to serve with my lunches during the week, or even to snack on. Note that by gaining convenience, you’ll sacrifice some texture with the loss of the outer crisp of roasted vegetables. I say do what you need to, though. If it means eating home cooked meals over cafeteria food or takeout, I’ll be the first one to dive into a plate of microwaved roasted veg.
- Again, if you have time, pull veggies from the fridge up to an hour before heating, so they lose the chill of the fridge and heat more quickly. Assuming they were cooked in a plant based oil (e.g., not bacon fat), there’s very little associated risk with bringing these to room temp
- The microwave is still the fastest method for reheating, assuming speed is your goal. Heat roasted veggies at full or nearly full power, usually in 30 second intervals. The exception is very large or whole veggies or potatoes, such as a whole or half sweet potato or a very large chunk of cauliflower. Both can begin at 45 seconds to a minute.
- Reheat in the oven around 325, starting with 15 minutes. You don’t need to cover the veggies.
- Veggies will “soak up” previous seasoning, so add a little salt and pepper after heating.
- You’d be surprised how tasty cold roasted veggies can be, especially in the summer. Alone, mixed with a simple dressing, or as part of a salad (or snatched out of the fridge at 10 AM), give this a try to save even more time during a busy day.
A Full Dinner
Let’s say you prepared a dinner with different components of both chicken and vegetables and want to reheat and have it ready at the same time, preferably in one pan. That’s possible, too! Follow the guidelines above to take the food out of the fridge in advance of cooking if time allows. Heat the oven to 250. This is a little higher than I recommended for chicken, above, but you may have to compromise a bit on the moisture level if you want the veggies to heat through in a reasonable time frame. Try wrapping the chicken completely in foil to keep it from drying out, as long as you’re not trying to maintain a super crispy exterior. Put everything in the same sheet pan or baking dish, and start with 20 minutes, knowing that a little more time may be required. Once the food has heated through, I like to turn down the oven to 175 to keep everything warm until just before putting it on the table.