Cooking Composition 101: The Truth About Leftovers

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Cooking Composition 101: The Truth About Leftovers

Above, Leftover Red Curry Stir-Fry

Whether out of necessity, convenience, or frugality, eating last night’s dinner for lunch the next day or a dinner a second time around, may be better for you than you think. Not only is it sustainable, resourceful and practical, it has the potential to be absolutely delicious! Why should holiday meals be the only exception to the rule?

Not all foods are created equal. First, let’s face it that not all foods are at their peak the next day. A dressed salad will lose its vitality and most fried foods, will lose their texture and suffer from the soggy effect. Pasta too. In part, because of water, but it’s not the only culprit standing between you and that left over meal. Enzymes also play into the leftover demise.  Luckily, these are only a few foods, of the many, that can’t handle sitting on the refrigerator shelf.

The complex makes it real simple. Have you ever wondered why some foods taste better a day later and others don’t? There are no shades of gray, they’re either the most simple, like steamed or roasted veggies or more complex. Foods that are more complex, meaning, have more ingredients, like onions, garlic and herbs, and so on, are the ones that go through various reactions with other ingredients, like starches and protein and hold exceptionally well.  Think casseroles, soups, stews and other dishes made with multiple ingredients. When we make sauces, pastes or dressings, we know that as the days move along, the flavors will fuse and give an upcoming meal a whole new meaning. When we marinate our food, we trust that a process will take place overnight. And we don’t have to watch it to be convinced. If you’ve ever marinated your food, you know that the longer it sits (using the nose as gauge to rule out spoiling), the tastier it will be. The proof that change took place shows up in the aroma and the taste. The same rules apply in nature, in the lab and in the kitchen. Even after the initial chemical reaction sets in, and cooling begins in the refrigerator, when left over foods face the fire or heat a second time, the magic is still happening. Only the transformation becomes more intense, more robust and the end result more flavorful. It may very well be the secret behind why sauces, pastes, dressings and marinades add a level of dimension to whatever it’s added to.

Awakening Umami Allowing food to sit and rearrange itself, tones down the flavors that were once very distinct and the umami flavor becomes more apparent. The flavor of umami was always there in the backdrop, and time worked in its’ favor. Research says that the main reason this umami flavor is more detectable is because once food is re-heated, the proteins in the foods experience a further breakdown and when the variety of ingredients come together to create a new flavor, there is a more wholesome balance. The umami flavor no longer has to sift through individual flavors that once were. There is no more hide and seek. Umami is purely awakened.

It’s take nothing but a little time. Like aging or fermenting and even healing, time does influence the natural process. Botanicals and plant foods are perfect examples. They seep, drink or absorb whatever carrier/conduit they are in contact with, whether ethanol, water, vinegar or salt. There is a break down of structure, much like when protein caramelizes and starches gelatinize. Much like destroying to rebuild with the same pieces. The basic idea being to release it’s healing properties and reach it’s full potential. The same goes with saving last nights dinner and reheating it for lunch. Everything affects everything when it comes to putting all the players in one pot/pan in the fridge. Not one ingredient makes it out as the sole performer they once were. Like a good casserole, curry sauce or jerk rub,  a day or two later nothing is lost, but so much is gained.

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