Could "better the next day" be a myth?
- Bill on Capitol Hill Oct 28, 2006 02:09 AM
I've long believed -- and I think I've experienced -- the conventional wisdom that dishes such as chili, stews and lasagna taste better when reheated, after "the flavors have had a chance to meld."
But has anyone put that theory to a blind test? It occurs to me that maybe the second-day version tastes better because I'm not tasting it right off the heat and burning my mouth in the process.
I've never put it to a taste test with chili. But I have with a shrimp dip recipe. It's really missing something the first day and wonderful the next.
Lasagna, definitely best warm from the oven.
I learned from experience that pot roast is usually better the next day, so whenever possible I make it a day ahead.
I make shrimp/catfish/chicken creole a fair amount. There is absolutely no doubt it's better then next day. So much so that I'll make it as early as possible so it's had time to sit before dinner.
It seems to me that a common belief is that a custard tastes better as it matures. I'll swear up and down that my banana pudding tastes better the next day. Even with day old meringue.
Lasagna is best the first day...it's the SAUCE that's so much better the next! I find the same holds true for beef or chicken stew, plus all hot soups and chowders.
Many kinds of soup, stews, and slow roasts really are better the second day. Even if I reheat it completely (so it's equally hot as the first day), it's just better the second day. The sauce/soup has melded together and thickened a bit, the meat has absorbed more of the salt, the vegetables taste meaty, etc. Basically, flavors mellow out and combine with each other, so instead of tasting ten different things you taste one amazing harmony.
Pastas (including lasagna) are usually best hot from the oven. Cheese doesn't do so well overnight.
Green beans are 10x better when reheated, doesn't matter if they've simmered all day or not, they will be better the next day after a night in the fridge.
We are firm believers that jambalaya and gumbo are better the next day. We used to talk about opening a restaurant called "The Next Day Cafe" that served lots of next-day foods.
Some cakes and cookies get better in flavour, not necessarily texture, too - generally spicey ones, the different spices seem to meld. I think there are traditional shortbread and spice cookie recipes that are meant to age. Recipes with buttermilk seem to get softer too, but I'm not sure I like that effect as much - things can get kind of sticky.
I believe many stews and chilis do get better.
Think about making home-made cole slaw...
You have thin sliced cabbage, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, celery seeds, vinegar, & whatever else...
Mix it all up in a bowl and what-a-ya-got?
A bunch of stuff mixed together in mayonnaise!!
You DO NOT have cole slaw!
But let this sit in a big zip-lock bag or covered bowl in the fridge for a day or two and the flavors all come out and turn the mayonnaise into magic, creamy, 'Cole Slaw gravy'!
The salt pulls out some of the cabbage's moisture and softens it a little... The fragrant celery seeds let loose their stuff into mix... The ground fresh black or white pepper becomes more than just little flecks...
Same with pastas, rice, or potato dishes...
Given a little time, they 'pull in the recipe'...
Anytime you can allow time for the sauces or liqiuds to take on the flavors of the recipe's ingredients, the better...
Sauces become more than 'what they were in the beginning'...
It's the difference between '5 musicians' and 'a band'...
I find many Indian dishes taste better after a day or so to mellow. This is good because making a complete Indian meal can be exhausting if you're trying to get it all done at the same time.
I think almost everything, that has more than one flavor to combine, tastes better the next day other than a single point food. Stews, lasagne, spegh and meaballs, braises, etc.
Some things that don't are the basics, hot dogs, hamburgers, broiled fish, etc.
There is a fundamental difference between a la minute cooking and slow(or one-pot)cooking. While kitchen pros do nearly everything ahead of time, at least partly (blanch and shock veg, par-cook risotto, leave pasta a hair beneath al dente to be ready for the reheat) this is a matter of expedience. None of these foods benefit from the process of "doing ahead" but it's necessary.
But a braise, a soup, a stew, ---- these are amalgamations, and as such they need time to cohere, to let their various elements marry each other. Six individual notes do not in themselves constitute an F Major. Let alone an F sharp minor.
Similarly (and more on topic) we all know that fresh herbs need to be added to a dish at the last possible second in order for them to retain their vibrancy and impact. Same thing(except totally opposite) for amalgamations. It's all about knowing your ingredients and knowing how best to showcase their attributes. (Herbs, front and center. Braises and soups, cool your heels in the walk-in. Develop your craft, whatever. You're on in act 2).
I love reheated lasagna, but I think it's best fresh. It loses texture the next day.
Stuffed shells, though, are always better the next day, to me--the pasta doesn't lose much texture, and the cheese is much richer.
My banana bread recipes (which calls for buttermilk) def. mellows nicely the next days.
The stew recipe I have used for years recommends making one day ahead for the "melding" to occur.