Cook the Rice in Front of the Rest of the Rice in the Microwave

The most constant element of my meal plan during a pandemic is the food I call “rice cake.” Even one fried egg or a bowl of beans turns into a full meal when served with rice, which means I can stretch out any leftovers so I don’t have to worry about lunch tomorrow.

There is one drawback to filling rice: it can be annoying to reheat, especially in the microwave. By the time the rice in the center warms up even a little, the top is already overcooked. This is annoying and predictable: microwaves make water molecules vibrate. If the water molecules in a substance are unevenly distributed – like in a pile of cold dry rice covered with an equally cold sauce – it will heat up unevenly. Nothing new to me, but I didn’t put two and two together until I had a bright idea to preheat a bowl of rice before placing the remaining gumbo on top.

It worked flawlessly. Heating the rice at first on its own, for just a minute, ensured my lunch was hot throughout – finally, no semi-burnt, semi-dry snacks. And since bacillus cereus thrives at room temperature , preheating leftover rice is probably much safer than stacking something on top in hopes of getting the middle out of the danger zone. Even though rice is mostly applied from a food safety point of view, any combination of starch and sauce will heat up more evenly if you microwave the starch first, which I think is pretty flavorful. (I think finding the best way to reheat leftovers in the microwave is more fun when they make up half of your meals and will continue to do so indefinitely .)

I can’t say that this little hack makes me all fired up about the magic of the microwave residual – it would be ridiculous, but it made my reheating food more enjoyable, which at this point in 2020 is a little miracle. If we’re lucky, by this time next year, we’ll be microwaving leftovers from meals ordered and (partially) eaten in real restaurants. Until then, at least our homemade dinners at the table will be a little less sad.


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