Back to Basics 8: Defrosting and reheating 101

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Recently I was chatting with a friend who told me she didn’t like to freeze foods because she refused to defrost food in the microwave. I guess her stance on frozen foods surprised me because it’s something I use quite a lot of in my own cooking.

I love to freeze foods because it saves me time, and I waste less food that way.

It also means I can plan ahead and make extra meals. Like last night, for instance, when I cooked a big pot of risotto but had 2 portions left over – I froze them straight away so I can use them for future work lunches.

The conversation got me thinking. Did she really hate to freeze and defrost, or was it that she just didn’t understand how to do it? Beginner cooks probably don’t know how to defrost properly either, and that got me to wondering about reheating. Would my friend and beginner cooks know how to reheat properly either?

If you’re keen on freezing food but aren’t really sure what to do, sit up and pay attention as I outline the basics for you in this last back to basics post so you too can enjoy the extra time and money you’ll save.

Defrosting 101

There are some very simple rules for defrosting, the biggest of which is that if you leave food to defrost on your bench in hot weather, it’s not a great idea because warm temperatures breed germs. All food needs to be either cold or hot to be safe, so warm isn’t good – and that’s exactly what happens to food when it’s left on the bench.

It might be that you’ve always defrosted food this way, or you’ve always seen your mother or grandmother do it. While this is certainly the case for many people, modern day science says it’s not the best or safest way to defrost your food – especially if you take the food out of the fridge before you leave for work and cook with it when you get home from work 8 or so hours later.

The best ways to defrost then, without leaving food on the bench all day, are to:

  • Leave the frozen food on a plate in the fridge for 12-24 hours (depending on the thickness of the food).
  • Pour cold water over the food to help it soften faster.
  • Defrost the food in the microwave using it’s defrost setting.

If you want to defrost food in the microwave, be especially certain that you’re using the defrost settings. If you use the regular ‘high’ heat setting on your microwave you’ll end up cooking the ends of the food but the middle or thickest part will be raw, or you might just cook the entire piece by accident. Always use the defrost setting because it’s a mix of higher and lower cooking temperatures so that the food defrosts evenly.

If you have a particularly awesome microwave it will have preset defrost settings for different types of foods. My microwave can defrost meat, chicken, bread and other foods. It does this through a setting for defrosting at different lengths of times. I most often use the chicken and the bread settings (bread goes off at room temperature too fast so I freeze mine as soon as I buy it, because it goes stale in the fridge).

You can probably get away with submerging your frozen food in a some warm water if you’re doing this only for a few minutes before you cook the food. Remember though, the key to healthy defrosting is to make sure you don’t let the food get to room temperature for too long.

Find the preset defrost settings on your microwave

Reheating 101

When you have cooked a meal and want to reheat the leftovers, you also need to be careful about making the food warm. So the aim of reheating is to make sure the food is heated up hot enough so that no germs can form.

But do you reheat all foods at the same temperatures? And is it okay to blast everything on the highest heat setting?

The answer to both questions is no. You don’t want to reheat every type of food at the same temperature. Remember that reheating is the equivalent of cooking, so if you’re cooking the food a second time you run the risk that you’ll burn your food or totally overcook it (and you don’t want tough dry meat!).

When reheating a big portion of a casserole or soup you can do so in one of two ways. 1) Reheat the soup or casserole in the container it was cooked in on a low heat on the stove or in the oven. It will take longer to reheat this way but you don’t run the risk of overheating it. This is the best way to reheat if you’ve got a dairy based soup or casserole. 2) Reheat the soup or casserole in smaller bowls in the microwave. This method could be faster and works better if you have less people to feed (because if you have many to feed the first ones will be finished before the last ones have even started).

If you’re reheating in the microwave it’s always a good idea to add a couple of sprinkles of water to the food before you press start. This works really well for rice, but can help any dry dish become more moist (because microwaving food means the water molecules are heated up and evaporated so food becomes quite dry if you don’t add a touch of the moisture back in). Also, if you’re reheating meat, and this applies especially for chicken, reheat using a medium heat, otherwise the meat tastes terrible. A medium heat would be anywhere between 50-70% power (most microwaves allow you to change the power percentage so get familiar with how to do this on your own microwave).

Find the power level button and use it for reheating meals

Another good tip to keep in mind when reheating in the microwave is to put a lid or plate loosely over the top of the dish (you want to leave a gap so the steam can escape) or to place a sheet of paper towel over the top. In some instances this will help the food get hotter as it cooks, but it’s also an awesome idea to keep your microwave cleaner (and then you don’t have to work so hard at cleaning it later).


There really isn’t anything that hard about defrosting and reheating. If you’re finding you’re having trouble just heat the frozen food or the leftovers for less time than you think you need and check it before you give it more time. Always remember to give the frozen and leftover food a stir part way through heating, especially if you’re using the microwave as the microwave tends to make the edges hot but the middles cold so mix the food around so it’s evenly heated.

If you have any other defrosting and reheating woes let me know by leaving me a comment or connecting with me via Facebook, Twitter and Google+ by using the buttons at the bottom of this post.

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