Resurrection of the Pizza & Fries, Part 2

(Last Updated On: March 20, 2014)

Pizza_Slice-in_Tango_Colors micro_giraffe 200pxScience Fact:  In yesterday’s post we stored a delicious leftover bit of pizza.  Today, we’re going to bring it out and eat it!

Some people eat pizza cold, for breakfast or a snack, and swear by it.  But most of us prefer an approximation of its original state, piping hot.  Let’s address the difficult problem: suitably reheating pizza.

We might consider three generic types of food leftovers:
– Food that’s as good as or even better than when it was first served.  I put stews and chili into this class – things that gain from cooking a long time.
– Food that should be eaten freshly cooked but not reheated: certainly eggs and perhaps also fish.
– The “in-betweens”: foods that lose something overnight but which (depending on your fastidiousness) can be revived to make a great lunch or a light dinner.  Pizza is one of the in-betweens: it can be stored, and can be reheated and eaten (by most people) with pleasure.

So exactly how should we reheat pizza?  The literature on this important question is passionate but contradictory.  You would think that a subject of such vital interest would have attracted extensive research and given us well-accepted answers, but such is not the case.  As a scientist, I am tempted to spend the next month – or would it be a year? – testing many pizzas and many techniques.  However, that cannot be.  My research in this area has been limited so for this post I consulted the myriad of contributors on the Internet, including:
– The Chicago Pizza Club (April 2008, Chicago), which after extensive testing advocates the approach of Recommendation #3 below.  It might be described as using a “preheated hot platform.”
SeriousEats.com (June 2010, Boston), advocating microwave followed by toaster oven, but obliterated by their later post
SeriousEats.com (March 2011, Boston), recommending a tightly covered griddle or skillet at very low (under 200°F) temperature
– LifeHacker.com (Nov 2011, South Carolina), using a skillet with medium heat and an aluminum foil cover
– The Dallas Observer (October 2013, Dallas) calls for a heavy pan, low to medium heat, uncovered, then watch for the oil to bubble up
Bon Appetit (January 2014, New York) says to use a skillet over medium heat 3-4 minutes covered, then 2-3 minutes uncovered to crisp the crust
WikiHow (undated), 14 authors (!) from who-knows-where team up to give contradictory advice: a preheated 400°F oven, a toaster oven, a skillet and even (O horrors! But not recommended) a microwave

Each of these sources brought something to the table, so to speak.  All bloggers save their most uncomplimentary adjectives for the microwave approach, but once you throw that out you can find those who love each of the other approaches.  With Hamlet we might muse: To cover or not to cover?  Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to apply low heat, medium heat, or heat that might melt steel?

Because pizza varies so widely across the U.S., I would like to believe that many, perhaps all of these writers are correct, as to good ways to reheat pizza from their own region.  And that’s why I supplied both dates and (so far as I can decode them) locations for the above references.  The New York and Boston correspondents are presumably consuming thin-crust pizzas with little topping; with a light topping, their pizzas have no moisture to spare, so these writers advocate partial or complete coverage of the cooking pan to keep the pizza from drying out.  In contrast, the Chicago blogger, presumably reheating a pizza with considerably more topping, could ignore trapping the moisture and concentrate instead on crisping the crust beneath.

My reading of this scholarly literature plus my own experience leads me to my next recommendation: [Recommendations #1 and #2 appeared in the previous blog]

Recommendation #3: Reheating Pizza (“Preheated Hot Platform”).  I most often reheat a pizza with a medium quantity of toppings, and for me the Chicago technique seems to work best, as follows:
– Choose a flat heatable surface such as a broiler pan, jelly roll pan, pizza pan or (for the truly dedicated) a pizza stone.  The pan should be as thick and heavy as possible to retain its heat.  It should not have a nonstick coating or soft handgrips because the high temperatures recommended might melt those features and perhaps poison you with their fumes.
– Place the pan in the center of the oven so that it’s not too near the heat source (which could cause scorching) and crank the oven up to the highest temperature you feel comfortable with: I usually use 450°F.
– As the oven approaches its target temperature, unwrap the frozen or refrigerated pizza slices and lay them out on a piece of parchment paper.  The paper should be only slightly larger than the array of slices, since the exposed edges of paper will curl up, brown and conceivably catch fire.
– Open the oven, pick up the pizza by the edges of the paper, deliver the pizza onto the pan and close the oven door.
– Turn on the oven light and watch through the window.  A frozen pizza needs to be heated only for 4 to 6 minutes, just until it’s hot, as shown by cheese melting and/or oil bubbling to the surface.  A pizza that is not frozen should reheat more quickly.  If the surface begins to brown you have missed the turnoff to culinary Paradise: remove it from the oven immediately.

There’s a bonus to learning this way to reheat pizza: it works extremely well for French fries, fried onion rings and in fact just about any fried food including fish and chips.  In fact, fried fish reheats so well that the advice given not to reheat fish should admit this case as an exception.  Which leads to my next and final recommendation:

Recommendation #4: Reheating French Fries & Other Fried Foods.  Follow the “Reheating Pizza” instructions above with the following changes:
– It’s not necessary to have as hot an oven, 400 to 450°F is plenty.
– Reheating times will vary considerably:  about 8 minutes for medium-thick French fries;  3 to 5 minutes for fried onion rings;  only 1 minute for thin fried onions (“onion strings”).  For fish and chips, keep them separated on the parchment paper so you can rescue each component as it reaches perfection: the optimum times may well be different.
– The signal that your food is done is that oil comes to the surface; at that point you must immediately remove it from the oven or it will begin to brown and burn.

Buon appetito!

Do you reheat leftover pizza?  Do you have a technique that works well for you?  If so, please comment, telling us not only how you reheat it, but what kind of pizza you most often reheat, in case different pizza styles have different best approaches.

Drawing Credit: micro_giraffe, on openclipart.org

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