Ask Peter: Reheating
When entertaining I like to cook as much as I can in advance to avoid stuffing things up in the last minute panic. Is it possible to cook mashed potatoes (and other mashes I guess) an hour or two ahead and reheat it? I don’t have a microwave and I tried reheating mash in a pot but it stuck to the bottom. I would also like to know if it’s possible to do this with a green vegetable? So they are already cooked and I can just pour some boiling water over them...are there tricks you chefs use for this?
You can absolutely reheat your mash a few hours after making it and, to be honest, you can even make it the day before. It will be fine to eat and it’s easy to reheat as it doesn’t affect the texture or taste. A microwave is good to reheat things for all sorts of reasons: it is quick and, although it uses a fair whack of power, it’s probably more energy efficient than turning the oven on to slowly reheat. A microwave also keeps the mash moist and you’re highly unlikely to burn it compared to reheating mash in a saucepan over a flame – which is also likely to stick.
However, as you say, you don’t have a microwave, so here’s the best alternate method. Spoon the mash into a ceramic or non-stick dish and lay a sheet of baking paper on top. Press it down firmly to flatten the mash evenly, which means it’ll reheat evenly, then warm it up in the oven anywhere between 120C and 180C. If you’re cooking something in the oven, just shove it in alongside it. To test if it’s hot, just eat a little.
You can also reheat leftover risotto this same way, which is foolproof compared to reheating in a saucepan which sometimes overcooks the rice.
Green veggies can be pre-blanched but make sure they are slightly under cooked, drained, then plunged into very cold, or iced, water until they lose all their heat. Once cold, drain in a colander and then either keep in the fridge (if you’re not going to eat them within a few hours) or simply leave at room temperature. When you want to serve them, simply drop them (brought to room temperature) into a pot of boiling water, turned off, for 45 seconds, and they’ll be good as gold. You could also, as you suggest, pour boiling water over them in a heatproof bowl.
One advantage of this reheating is that you can make sure every veggie is cooked to perfection. Assuming you’re cooking beans, broccoli and snow peas, you’d bring lightly salted water to the boil and add the beans, boil for 30-45 seconds depending on their size, then add the broccoli and boil another 30 seconds, then add the snow peas and boil for another 10 seconds. Drain into a colander then refresh in iced water, and drain once cooled. When it comes time to reheat, it’ll take just over a minute. That’ll take some pressure off your next dinner party.
While we’re talking time saving tricks of the trade, you can also apply this to salads. The thing that breaks down vegetables and leaves in a salad is the dressing. The vinegar, salt and oil will break down the cell structure of delicate leaves especially. However, assuming you have a big mixed salad as part of your meal, here’s how to prep in advance but still keep it fresh.
You need to layer it in a bowl, starting with the more robust things in the bottom such as blanched beans, sliced boiled potatoes, roast diced kumara etc. Next put the more moist things like halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, olives, capers, sliced cucumber. Then the nuts or seeds go in, and finally the leaves. Seal the salad with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Just as you go to serve it, shake the dressing, drizzle half of it on and toss the salad, then drizzle on the remaining dressing. It’ll look fresh and crisp.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.