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Cooking in a Flash: How to Reheat Food without Overcooking It

CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Lauren Braun Costello
About the author: Lauren Braun Costello
The competent cook; food stylist; cooking instructor; graduate French Culinary Institute. To die for dish? Maple glazed bacon wrapped roast turkey. Yep, bacon wrapped.
It’s Saturday night and friends are coming for dinner. You have just one oven. Four dishes need to be cooked in that oven and served hot at the same time. There is no way you can roast a chicken, bake a casserole and warm two side dishes at the last minute. Something has to be made first and something has to be made last. But how can food be reheated without being recooked?

Do It in a Flash
Food can be cooked either “a la minute,” literally meaning “to the minute,” or to order; or food can be made ahead of time and then reheated for service. The latter technique, known as “flashing,” is a used everyday by restaurant chefs and caterers so that they can serve large quantities of hot food without having to time the cooking of it all at the last minute. The principle of flashing is to reheat room temperature or slightly warm food in a very hot oven for a short period of time. This enables food to reach its desired temperature while preventing further cooking. Foods can be flashed from 425 to 475 degrees F, anywhere from 2-10 minutes.

What Can I Flash?
It is far easier to list what cannot be flashed, rather than what can. Stews and thick casseroles cannot be flashed from room temperature because of their density. Whole birds and roasts also will not flash well for the same reason. However, if a precooked bird is broken down and placed on a sheet pan, it can be flashed easily. Since flashing is hot and quick, the food should be in individual portions or slices, or in a thin layer. If the food is supposed to be moist and juicy, like meat and poultry, cover it with pan juices and then tin foil when flashing so that the high temperature does not dry out the product.

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But I Reheat at 350 Degrees F All the Time
350 degree F is probably our most familiar oven temperature, and therefore falls right in the sweet spot of our comfort zone. It is important to remember that 350 degrees F is a baking and cooking heat, not necessarily a temperature that is ideal for reheating. In order to get precooked food hot again by placing it in a 350 degree oven, the food would have to stay in that oven for 20 minutes or more. The problem with that time frame is that the food is not really reheating, but cooking once again. Moreover, it is taking more time than necessary, which is ultimately a waste, especially when you are preparing for a party. If you cook food ahead of service, presumably you have cooked it to the desired state. When you reheat it, all you want to do is get it hot, not cook it further.

To Precook or Not to Precook
Determining what to precook and what to cook “a la minute” takes experience. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself to guide you to make the right choices:

• What takes the longest/fastest to cook?
• What is most likely/least likely to dry out?
• Will anything stay warm once cooked?

In the example above, a chicken, a casserole and two side dishes (say, roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus) will be served at a party. The potatoes should be made first, since they will cool quickly and therefore reheat quickly, but are not as likely to overcook like the asparagus (ideal for flashing!). Casseroles not only almost always can be made ahead of time, but they are generally even better that way.

The casserole should be made right before the chicken, so that it can settle and rest outside the oven, but still stay warm while the chicken is cooking. The chicken, which can dry out easily, should be roasted so that it is resting outside the oven right before you sit down to dinner. Once the chicken is removed from the oven, bring the temperature to 425 degrees F, roast your asparagus at the same time you return the potatoes to the oven for flashing (the casserole can go in the oven then, too, since it is still internally warm).

The next time you throw a party and you have lots of dishes to juggle, just remember: you can do it in a flash!
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       I just wanted to say a really huge thankyou for this. I had no idea what i was doing wrong all these years. When I reheated foods they always turned out awful because I didn't understand that I was recooking them!!! I thought using a high heat would ruin them when in fact I was ruining them at a lower heat. Thank you thank you thank you!

    Comment posted by Marlene

       You didn't say how long I can leave the casserole in the oven to reheat; i.e., scalloped potatoes.

    Comment posted by Izzy

       The flashing you recommend in this article is very; however, it presupposes that all the food is at room temperature or warmer before the flashing process begins. Is there an acceptable way to flash-reheat food that's coming straight out of the refrigerator? If so, it would be an article I'd love to see written. I have to prepare meals for upward of 40 diners once per month for a club I belong to and this would save me an incredible amount of time.

    Comment posted by Dan

       Dan, "Flashing," as explained in the article, means to QUICKLY bring something to temperature from a room or warm state, NOT from a cold state...that is what it is. What you are talking about is classically reheating food from a refrigerated state (not flashing) entirely different subject. There is no way to sidestep reheating something from a cold state unless you bring it to room temperature first. So, you might consider taking the food out of the refrigerator in advance of the meal so that when you go to reheat the product, it is starting from a less cold state.

    Comment posted by Chef Lauren Braun Costello

        Great advice ! Thanx ! If food cannot be flashed, how should it be warmed up ? Can it be warmed up at low temp for an hour or so w/o geting overcooked ?

    Comment posted by Dozer

       Like Dan, I would like to know how to reheat food from a refrigerated temperature. Is microwaving on low power the best way?

    Comment posted by Carol

       I made enough rigatoni to feed an army, Not knowing how much to make for, so now I have lots of leftovers, wanting to use for Sunday dinner I don't want it to be mushy. I'll serve it with garlic bread & a vegetable. It's been in the frig. 3 days. Thanks for your help

    Comment posted by Joan

       I have a beef tenderloin that was cooked to about med rare. Would like to keep it as close to that and get the inside hot. Would 475 degrees for 5-10 take care of this? Thanks!

    Comment posted by Joan

       Like Dan and Carol, I also would like to know how to reheat food from a refrigerated temperature. We understand this is not flashing - rather, (I would guess) it is the most common state food is in when people wish to reheat it. Information about how best to go from cold to room temperature would probably be very useful to many people who come across this article.

    Comment posted by John

       It is not the quickest way compared to the microwave, but I hate eating meat that is tough from the nuker.... I have a super large roaster that i poor hot water, spices, wine or what ever i flavored the meat with. Bring the brew to a boil, and then place your meat or what ever wrapped in foil, or even just on a plate into the make shift steamer. put the lid on and I typically let it boil for 5 more min, then turn the heat off. It may take 10 minutes to reheat from that point, experience will let you know. I even reheat mac and chees this way and have never had a problem with over cooking. For the woman who want to reheat her rigatoni...its the lenghty time in the fridge that will cause it to be mushy, especially if your noodles where cooked beyond el dente. They absorb the moisture from the sauce, and that is why they get mushy. I always under cook my noodles if I need to hold them in a sauce.

    Comment posted by pauseplace

       Hello! I am so glad I found your page! I wanted to ask you how can I make coconut shrimp in the morning and reheat in the afternoon? Will it get too soggy in the fridge? And how can I reheat foods like tempura? Thank you sooooooo much! Gaby

    Comment posted by Gaby

       I'm making dinner for about 30 people for Xmas and want to reheat the prepared red potatoes and glazed carrots that i made in the morning. I now understand they need to be room temp. but approx who long will it take to reheat and at what temp

    Comment posted by Brenda

       We brought in a ton of food from a Turkish restaurant to serve to our kids and grandchildren the next day (today). I am so glad to rad all this info and will certainly be happy to try flashing at a very high temp rather than at the 350 I would have typically tried which certainly dried everyting out. Thanks!

    Comment posted by Grandma

       great, clear instruction!

    Comment posted by feedmemama

       Good artical; I would also like to know what temp and how long from the refridgerator to the oven. CHRISTmas is coming and this would be helpful for all the pre-made refridgerated dishes!

    Comment posted by Kendra

       I really appreciate this article. I like to have parties but I also like to have fun at them. This will help me insure that my work pays off and I still have time to enjoy my friends. Thank you!

    Comment posted by LAP

       your tips valuable. Thank you. How to preheat pork knuckle and retain its crispiness??

    Comment posted by Ally

       Great article! We have a big family reunion every year, which is a pot luck dinner. I always like to bring pasta w/sauce in a big pan, because it serves a lot. But when I bring my dish to this event, and by the time it is served, the sauce gets absorbed into the pasta which makes the pasta very dry. I even put extra sauce in the pasta, making it soup like sometimes, because I know from previous years that it gets dried out, but no matter how much sauce I put it, by the time it gets served, it still gets very dry. Is there any solution?

    Comment posted by Diana

       How do you serve half chickens reheated in under twenty minutes

    Comment posted by darkmeat

       I am disabled with MS; however, I like to still make special family dinners. For Easter, I am making Ham, pineapple slices, scalloped potatoes, asparagus,homemade baked beans, baked scallop casserole, coleslaw, jello salad,and rolls. I know that sounds like alot, but it is a wonderful holiday to celebrate big:) I can make the baked beans a day or two early, make the pineapple slices in a casserole so that I just have to bake it with the ham, make the scallop casserole on Easter, cook the asparagus the day it is served too. The jello salad is made in advance and the coleslaw is from KFC. My only problem is the scalloped potatoes. I used to make them fresh the day they were served, but I am slower these days, so need to find an easier way. I am thinking about making and baking them the evening before, then reheating them in the crockpot on low so that they won't cook more. If they don't heat fast enough, I will change the setting to high for long enough to get them just heated and then return to low. Can you tell me if you think my idea of reheating them in the crockpot is ok? Otherwise, can you suggest something else or maybe another kind of potato dish I could serve. Thanks for your help.

    Comment posted by Betty

       I'm afraid I still don't know how to reheat "frozen" scalloped potatoes. I want to make my dish about 4-7 days ahead of when my kids will be coming to visit. But, overall, I learned a lot from this article. Thanks.

    Comment posted by Charlotte


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