Since restaurant customers — some reluctant to return to dining rooms — will continue to use take-out and delivery more than they did before the pandemic, it’s good to learn how to recover full food flavour at home.
When it comes to delivery-app transport and curbside pick-up, time, temperature and distance travelled all take their toll on food quality.
However, if you want your take-out meals to more closely approximate the experience of eating in a restaurant dining room, there are a few quick and relatively easy steps you can take yourself.
Food operations from casual pubs to upscale bistros have revamped take-out menus accordingly, says Cerny Group executive chef Dan Potter.
Potter, who oversees the Blackshop in Cambridge and Sole in Waterloo, says meeting customer expectations comes first, and that’s meant many menu alterations.
“Some things just aren’t conducive to take-out and don’t travel well,” he says, noting that, for instance, fried calamari has been taken off their menu. As well, he says, “we’ve had to change significantly some of our dishes.”
Let off steam
If you’re doing curbside pickup, use an insulated bag, and if the food is in clamshell containers, open them up for the drive home – this will prevent too much steaming. Steam is a bad environment for many foods such as french fries.
Ben Sachse of Fat Sparrow Group suggests you think about reheating your take-out at home by replicating the cooking method used at the restaurant – though he admits that’s not always possible or convenient, especially when it comes to deep-frying.
“When heating any food, getting it nice and hot like you would find at the restaurant is obviously the goal, but preserving texture is key also,” says Sachse, a Stratford Chefs School graduate.
To reheat crispy dishes like fries or fried chicken, he recommends using the dry heat of the oven at 300°F– 325°F. “Don’t go too high, or it will burn the outside before heating inside,” Sachse says.
I’ve found that placing food on a cooling rack, then putting the rack on a sheet pan, allows hot air to circulate for quicker and more thorough heating. (Inexpensive cooling racks are easy to find online.)
Change the steaks
Things are a little trickier when it comes to that nice juicy striploin you’ve picked up. After transporting it home in polar-vortex temperatures, giving it a flash in a pan is desirable – but beware over-cooking, warns Steve Allen, owner of Lily Ruth Catering and an instructor at Conestoga College School of Culinary Arts.
“A steak: I would order a bit less than the degree of doneness you want. If you want medium-rare, then order it rare and finish it quickly when it arrives home,” Allen said. “Give it a very quick sear in a hot pan or a few minutes in a 425°F oven.”
Allen adds that some dishes, by their very nature, travel better than others – and can more easily be brought back to proper temperature once they’re in your kitchen. “There are dishes from around the world – a Thai curry or an Indian dhal – that are treated far better by being heated up at home than many North American foods.”
A burrito, I should note, travels more happily than a burger, and it’s amazing how much better take-out pho is – the noodles packed separately – when you bring the tasty beef broth to a quick boil before combining it with the noodles. That prep will take only a few minutes and the benefit is substantially better flavour.
For the chemistry set
When it comes to take-out, it’s useful to understand basic kitchen chemistry: Cooking is essentially removing moisture from food. When that’s done properly at a restaurant, the food is delicious; when you heat that same food further at home, you can ruin it.
So if 10 or 15 minutes – or longer – of travel has turned your take-out dish lukewarm and uninspiring, according to Sachse you can bring it back to life by adding some liquid to it.
“The heating process will pull more moisture out of the food, including vegetables and mashed potatoes,” Sachse says. “You want to re-balance that. Adding just a teaspoon or two of water, stock or cream to the food in the pan will surround it in vapour and reduce moisture loss on its way to getting hot again.”
On a similar note, for that fancier take-out meal, getting the accompanying sauce good and hot on your stovetop will add palatability – as will warming up your plates a bit ahead of time.
Pan the pizza
On the flip side, what to do about pizza, one of the original and simple home-delivery foods, which so often turns soggy after suffering a temperate trip in its cardboard box? Most people try to revive mushy pizza with a quick blast in a hot oven.
Waterloo’s Prohibition Warehouse chef Chris Phan suggests an alternative method that can yield good results and takes only minutes.
“Put your slices in a frying pan over medium heat until they warm up,” Phan says, adding that those same slices could dry out on a sheet pan in the oven.
You could even create a new pizza style by flipping the slices in the pan over onto their toppings, adding a crisp texture that’s also properly hot.
Finally, most cooks will say that the microwave can be a good idea for heating up certain take-out foods, if you don’t zap them too long. “Rice heats well,” says Phan. However, if your take-out has arrived in clear plastic containers, transfer the food into glass dishes before microwaving. “The heat can shed some plastic,” Sachse says.
For their part, restaurants will continue to re-develop recipes and menus in the changing environment, according to Allen.
“Take-out food has drastically changed due to COVID-19,” he says.
The good news? “What was once a very rare thing – gourmet meals shipped home in a box – is now becoming the norm.”
Published at Sat, 20 Feb 2021 11:54:00 +0000