Q. I’ve got leftover Chinese food but I’m not sure how to maintain the flavor in the re-heating process. So my question is can you reheat Chinese food and what’s the best way to heat it up without making it boring?
A. The trick to reheating Chinese food is to pay attention to the primary ingredients and to avoid heating it for too long. Of the ingredients to consider, pay special attention to the rice and the vegetables. Any proteins in the dish only have to get warm enough to be palatable.
Can you reheat a Chinese food dish and keep the flavors interesting? If the dish includes rice, be aware that cooked rice can be reheated in less than two minutes. Should the dish also contain vegetables, consider cutting any large pieces, such as broccoli stalks, into smaller pieces before you start heating it up. Too much heat will wilt large vegetable chunks and leave things soupy and molten instead of fresh and hot.
If you’re reheating fried rice that’s already fairly dry, consider placing a damp paper towel over the bowl or plate to keep things from drying out too much. Stir your plate every thirty seconds to keep all the rice evenly coated.
Most proteins in Chinese food, such as chicken, pork or beef, are likely able to tolerate the same heat as the rice; keep things stirred up and it should be fine. Can you reheat a Chinese food dish that contains seafood or tofu? Here is where you have to be more careful.
The puzzle of how to reheat Chinese food that contains proteins such as shrimp will require a bit of separation. While the fat in crab Rangoon will generally protect the crab meat from drying out too much, shrimp tend to develop the texture of a pencil eraser when heated. The smaller the shrimp, the faster they turn tough, fibrous and tasteless.
Consider plucking the shrimp out of the dish before you start to heat it. Give everything else in the container, such as rice, sauce and veggies, a running start for at least a minute. Once the food has started to warm up, stir the shrimp back into the bowl and heat it fully.
Tofu is another product that can quickly go from flavorful to chewy when exposed to too much heat. Worse, overheated tofu will release all the fluids and turn your dish soupy. If you’re making homemade stir fry and you know you’re going to have leftovers, consider starting with tofu that’s been frozen already. Yes, the texture will be different. However, this form of tofu is a bit more durable over time.
The vegetables in your leftover Chinese food contain more water than anything else in the dish, so the trick is to get them warm without getting them to the boiling point. Any overcooked vegetable, whether you’re fixing it in the microwave or on the stove top, will turn to mush when the water inside the cells boils through. Getting things too hot bursts the cell wall and breaks down the structure of the vegetable.
Since quick cooking with oil is what gives Chinese vegetables their amazing flavor, it makes sense that long term cooking in the microwave will wipe out some of that flavor. Do your best to heat for short bursts, stir and heat again. Keeping the dish stirred will give you the best chance of heating everything evenly.
Pay special attention to celery in this reheating process. While freshly stir-fried celery is crisp and yummy, getting it too hot will turn it to glop. As noted above, any really large chunks of vegetables should be cut down to make the reheating process more consistent.
Sugar can burn in the microwave as well as in the oven or on the stove top. Sweet and sour sauce should be added after the food is hot. Additionally, any sauces loaded with citrus will lose their zing over time, and reheating doesn’t help.
If you’re making Chinese at home, consider holding a bit of sauce back in the original cooking so you can stir it in fresh as you heat things up. If not, consider adding a twist of fresh lemon or orange to a dish before you serve it to bring the scent and flavor back.
Breading / Fried Wrappers
If your Chinese dish was deep fried in any way, shape or form, get two plates. Breaded things, like chicken, when heated with things cooked with water, like rice, will not mix well in the microwave. On its own plate, the hot oil in the deep-fried food will likely release the breading in the reheating process, which will take away from the presentation but still taste good.
Exposing it to steam as you heat up rice and veggies will saturate the breading. It may retain some flavor, but the essence of the oil left by deep frying won’t survive. Worse, the meat inside the breading will also release water, so you’ll be steaming the product from inside and out, and the results will be mush.
If possible, heat up your Chinese food on a stoneware, ceramic or glass plate. The wax paper containers from the store may collapse in the microwave and make a mess, and there are those pesky metal handles to worry about. Paper plates can also collapse under the pressure of sauce and steam, and foam dishes can burn through if exposed to too much heat.
Your beautifully presented Chinese meal can be enjoyed the next day, but you’ll need to heat things slowly. Stir frequently and be ready to pull out anything deep fried onto a separate plate. Be ready to pick out shrimp and tofu as well.