Phrases like “slow cooker,” “simmer on low for up to six hours” and “marinate overnight” aren’t popular in our instant gratification world. Americans seem to have little interest in labor-intensive food preparation and late, European dinners that last for hours.
We want our food, and we want it now.
But if you have the patience, you can discover the mouth-joy of allowing foods to fully develop their flavors.
Plus, if you think about it, preparing some meals on the weekends and reheating them during the work week can actually save you time, if you plan ahead a bit.
Here are three main components of dishes that are best enjoyed the next day:
- Anything with noodles. With the exception of carbonara sauces that require a bit of raw egg for their signature flavors, pretty much any dish with noodles is going to taste better if you let those noodles sit and stew a while. Pasta, tofu, the rice with curry dishes — these are your flavor-soakers. Let them soak! When I make lasagna, not only do I simmer my homemade tomato sauce for hours (the delicious alchemy of an onion’s sugars breaking down to balance the acidity of the tomatoes is a contender for my favorite thing about cooking/eating), but I let the finished dish rest, sometimes overnight. It’s always, always better than if I eat while I still have to blow on it to cool a bite.
- Any homemade vegetarian patty or loaf. It’s less about absorbing flavor and more about the hold. If you’re making patties out of lentils, nuts, rice, textured vegetable protein, tofu, tempeh, seitan, soy ground beef, “mushroom meat,” or minced veggies, let them cool completely, wrap them tightly in foil and refrigerate them overnight. When you reheat them, they’ll hold together better than if you try to eat them right out of the skillet. Even flipping these patties can be tricky — try laying a plate on top of them in the skillet, flipping the skillet upside down (so they are cooked-side-up), then gently sliding the patties back into the skillet on the side that needs to cook. If you can keep the patties and loaves intact until they’re cool, they’ll be much firmer when you reheat.
- Stews and soups. So much flavorful liquid, why would you want to rush it? With the exception of soups containing grains, which could break down or absorb all your liquid (mushroom barley soup becomes mushroom barley pilaf after a few hours), soups should steep as long as you can stand waiting. A few years ago for the Super Bowl, I made a giant batch of vegetarian beer chili, two days early. I wrapped the cooled crockpot and set it outside for at least 36 hours. On game day, I brushed snow off of it and slowly reheated it on the stove. I’ve been making this chili for years, and that day was the best it’s ever tasted. The onion was garlic-y, the beans were onion-y and the soy meat tasted like every ingredient on the recipe card, including the chocolate stout I used. There were no leftovers.
No matter what you’re serving or when you’re serving it, be sure to follow food safety guidelines regarding the cooling, storage and reheating of prepared foods.
What’s your favorite dish to wait for?