Best food for takeout and how to make leftovers count – Entertainment & Life – Savannah Morning News

Torri Donley

By now, most of us, even those who never order takeout other than pizza, have needed to give ourselves a break from our pandemic quarantine kitchens and have resorted to the convenience of ordering from a favorite restaurant. Particularly for those of us who are still not dining out, getting […]

By now, most of us, even those who never order takeout other than pizza, have needed to give ourselves a break from our pandemic quarantine kitchens and have resorted to the convenience of ordering from a favorite restaurant.

Particularly for those of us who are still not dining out, getting that break is a real blessing. But while it does relieve us from having to cook for a night, it’s not without challenges.

Unfortunately, not all prepared foods travel and keep well. So getting the most from those experiences requires more than merely ordering on a whim, picking it up or having it delivered, and tucking into it.

Many of you are old hands at this and don’t really need help. But those like me, who, until March, had but rarely ordered takeout, often are at sea when it comes to negotiating what to order, how to get it home in good condition, and how to make it shine once we get it there.

Then there’s the dilemma of what to do with the leftovers.

To that end, here are a few tips I’ve learned the hard way, and wish I’d had someone tell me when I began dipping my toe into the exotic world of ordering in. There are also a couple of favorite leftover recipes to help get your imagination going on recycling the remains.

I hope you’ll all enjoy and find them useful.

How, what to order

• Fried food is the trickiest thing to get as takeout: Encasing hot, fresh-from-the-fryer items in an insulated container traps the steam, making breading soggy and un-breaded things such as fries unappetizingly limp and often mushy.

• The same is true for baked entrées that have browned, crisp toppings of cheese or crumbs.

• Cooked shellfish and other seafood, crisp-tender vegetables, and lightly sautéed foods all hold up well in a takeout box but can easily be overcooked in reheating, so they’ll be at their best in a form that’s enjoyable at room temperature.

• Burgers and most sandwiches hold up best in paper wrappers, but some places can’t do that. Burgers weather a takeout box better if the lettuce, tomato, and onion (if any) and other condiments are kept on the side so they don’t partially cook on the warm meat. Sometimes the heat is just enough to make them shed moisture, making the bun soggy.

• Pasta holds up fairly well to takeout but, especially if it’s sauce-heavy or part of a soup, can continue cooking past al dente if it’s too tightly covered and lingers in the carton.

• Cold mayonnaise-based dishes, such as chicken, crab, potato, shrimp or tuna salad, hold up very well in a takeout container, and most restaurants prepare them with commercial mayonnaise, which is pasteurized and less likely to spoil than the food it enrobes. Still, if they’re not eaten right away, promptly refrigerate them as soon as you get them home.

• Cold mixed and green salads do just fine in a takeout container, but if you have a long distance to go with them, ask for the dressing on the side so that its acid doesn’t start to break down the leafy greens.

How to get It home, keep it in optimum condition

Equally as important as what you get and where you got it is how you get it home. If the food has been handled badly on the trip from the restaurant to your table, it won’t matter how carefully you ordered or how well it was prepared.

You want to keep cold things cold and hot things hot, but the latter has its limits. If you’ve got a long distance to travel, take a cooler or insulated bag for cold food. Depending on what the hot food is, an insulated bag can be handy, but over-insulating hot food can do more damage than good.

• For fried, baked or any other food you want to keep crisp or prevent from continuing to cook in its own steam, open or vent the carton by piercing the top at regular intervals with a fork. If it’s in a plastic bag, take it out while en route from the restaurant.

• Speed is of the essence with hot foods. Encasing them in a tightly sealed container will at the very least make them keep cooking at their center and get overdone, or create so much steam that it makes everything soggy. But at worst it could cause it to spoil, so get it home as quickly and safely as you can, and promptly remove it from its container.

• As a reminder from the notes above, if you’re traveling a long distance with a salad, ask for the dressing on the side so that it won’t start to break down the leafy greens.

• Hot food that’s not eaten right away should be uncovered and cooled completely before storing, re-covered, in the refrigerator.

• Store all leftovers promptly in a tightly sealed container, preferably not in the takeout carton unless it happens to seal tightly. Again, make sure that hot foods have cooled completely before they’re covered and refrigerated.

Dining experience at home vs. merely eating

Yes, I know the temptation is to park in front of the TV, plop the carton on your lap and have at it with the lame plastic cutlery the restaurant provided. But you’ll enjoy it more if you make a minimal effort to recreate at least a little of the dining-out experience.

I mean, honestly, you don’t have a kitchen to clean, so it’s not going to create a huge clean-up chore to use real serve-ware.

• At the very least, set the table or a lap tray with napkins, nice flatware and real glassware, even if the beverage came home in a to-go cup.

• Transfer the food to a dinner plate or bowl, depending on what it is, and if it’s packed family-style with each dish in bulk, to serving bowls.

• The microwave is a great tool for reheating a lot of foods, but it’s not for everything. Don’t reheat fried food in the microwave, and reheat such things as stir-fry at short intervals, regularly checking and stirring them until they’re evenly heated through but not yet starting to cook more.

• Make sure the container you use for reheating is safe for the mode you’ve chosen, whether it’s the microwave, oven or stovetop.

• The best way to reheat fried food is to briefly re-fry it for a minute or so, but that defeats the purpose of ordering it from a restaurant. The second best is to reheat it on a rimmed sheet pan in the upper third of a hot oven (365-380 degrees F), turning at least once.

• If you want to try reheating fried food in an air fryer, I don’t have one and can’t guide you, so use the manufacturer’s recommendations as a guide.

• Reheat pizza on a preheated baking stone or a heavy-bottomed baking sheet. Thoroughly preheat the stone or pan in a 400- to 450-degree oven before adding the pizza.

• If a baked dish (such as lasagna or other pasta) is already quite brown on top, it’ll be at its best reheated in the microwave rather than the oven, but if possible, reheat crisp-topped baked goods in a 375-degree oven.

Just as nice the second time around

All too often, leftover takeout goes straight into the garbage or, at best, spends a week or more hopefully waiting in the fridge before being rediscovered and tossed. We can do better than that, and I don’t mean merely eating it cold from its carton for breakfast the next morning.

• Look for ways to repurpose the food that won’t overcook it in the process.

• If it doesn’t have to be reheated to be safe or to get optimum flavor, most things that aren’t coated with sauce or gravy are great additions to salad.

• Hot/cold contrasts in a single dish can also add interest (re-warmed sliced steak or chicken on salad greens, for example, see Kitchen Sink Fried Rice recipe).

• Small amounts of leftovers can also add a nice lift to soups, stir-fries and casseroles.

• Turn a dab into a main dish by making it a sauce for hot cooked pasta.

• Almost anything is delightful in a taco: wrap it in a warm tortilla, add lettuce, onion, and tomato, drizzle it with lime crema or salsa, or a little of both, and voila!

• Slice leftover steak or cooked chicken and add it to a salad cold or reheated by briefly tossing it in a hot pan with olive oil.

• Leftover fried fish makes lovely escabeche (a dish of cold marinated fish that’s similar to ceviche except that the fish is cooked first).

• Fried rice is meant to be made with leftovers, and is a great way to use up things other than just rice. Almost any diced cooked meat, poultry, shellfish, and/or vegetables are fine for stirring into the wok.


Fried Shrimp Tacos

Lightly breading and frying shrimp is one of the single most perfect things that can be done to them. Unhappily, the leftovers can never be quite equal to that perfection. But carefully reheated and folded into a warm tortilla, they come pretty close.

The crema and avocado and tomato salsa can be varied to suit your own tastes and accommodate what you happen to have on hand, so feel free to improvise with those. Serves 2.


• 1/2 cup sour cream

• 1/2 cup mayonnaise

• 1 small or 1/2 large clove garlic

• Salt

• 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon finely minced cilantro, plus 1/2 cup torn leaves, for garnish

• About 2 1/2 limes, 1 cut into wedges for serving

• Hot sauce

• 12-20 (depending on size) leftover fried shrimp (tails removed)

• 1 ripe Haas avocado

• 1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomato or quartered grape or cherry tomatoes

• 1/2 cup diced red onion, Vidalia Sweet onion, or sliced scallions

• 1 small jalapeno chili pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced or sliced, optional

• 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 8 6-inch corn tortillas

• 11/2 to 2 cups finely shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce


1. Make lime crema: Blend sour cream and mayonnaise. Lay garlic clove on work surface. Place flat side of wide cook’s knife on top, and firmly tap to crush. Peel garlic, roughly chop and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Scrape to a puree with flat side of knife and add to sour cream and mayonnaise along with minced cilantro. Grate in zest from 1 lime, cut lime in half, and blend in juice from 1/2. Add dash hot sauce, taste, and adjust salt, hot sauce, and lime juice as needed. Can be made up to 1 day ahead: cover and refrigerate.

2. Halve, pit, peel, and dice avocado. Put in glass bowl with tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno if desired. Toss with juice of 1/2 lime and season with salt. Gently toss to mix.

3. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375° F. Rub a rimmed baking sheet with oil and spread shrimp over, not touching. Bake, turning once, until hot through, about 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, warm iron skillet or heavy-bottomed non-stick pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Lay 1 tortilla in pan and heat, turning once with tongs, until hot and beginning to toast. Remove from pan to warm plate. Repeat with second tortilla and place on top of first. Repeat until all tortillas are warmed and stacked in twos.

5. Divide lettuce among each tortilla stack, mounding down center and drizzle with crema. Divide avocado and tomato salsa among tortillas. Divide shrimp among tortillas, drizzle with crema and garnish with torn cilantro leaves. Serve with lime wedges.

Kitchen Sink Fried Rice

Most of us think of fried rice as an Asian dish and this one is based on Chinese recipes, but it’s also found all around the Atlantic rim wherever people from West Africa’s rice growing coast have settled. If you think about it, it’s a logical thing to do with leftover rice. And since it was basically created for dealing with leftovers, it’s a great way of refreshing not only the grain, but most any meat, poultry, or cooked vegetables.

I call it Kitchen Sink Fried Rice from the old expression about having “everything but the kitchen sink” in the pot. Serves 2-3 as a main dish.


• 3 cups cold cooked long-grain rice

• 2 large eggs

• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

• About 3 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil

• 1 scallion, thinly sliced

• 1/2 cup yellow onion, small-diced to size of peas

• 1/2 cup carrots peeled and small-diced to size of peas

• 1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed

• 1-2 teaspoons hoisin or oyster sauce

• 1-2 tablespoons light soy sauce such as Kikkoman’s

• 1 cup diced cooked beef, chicken, ham, lamb, pork, smoked sausage, or shrimp

• 1-2 cups leftover cooked vegetables, small-diced


1. Put rice in a large bowl and break up lumps with fingers. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon oil into wok or stir-fry pan and put over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add scallion and stir-fry 10-15 seconds. Stir in beaten eggs and scramble until curds are almost dry and separate. Remove from pan.

3. Drizzle in 1-2 more tablespoons oil. Add onion and carrot and stir-fry until almost crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add green peas, ginger, and garlic and continue stir-frying until vegetables are crisp-tender or to your taste, about 1-2 minutes longer.

4. Add rice, cooked meat, and cooked vegetables. Toss to mix. Return egg to pan and mix well. Sprinkle with hoisin or oyster sauce to taste, and stir-fry until well-mixed. Season as needed with soy sauce and toss until hot through. Serve immediately.

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