Leftovers can be a great time-saver during the week. Having a stocked refrigerator is an asset when you’re too busy to cook. Reheating the chicken you made just the other night seems like a great idea, but then your first bite tastes funny, and you’re wondering what went wrong.
So, why does chicken taste bad when reheated? The answer is that exposure to oxygen and the breakdown of polyunsaturated fatty acids and proteins make poultry and fish taste a little different the second time around.
This phenomenon isn’t in your head. It’s real, and there’s even a term for it. The funny taste of reheated chicken is known as “warmed-over flavor,” or WOF.
What Is Warmed-Over Flavor?
The warmed-over flavor doesn’t mean that food has spoiled. Instead, it’s purely related to its taste and texture. Some people say that food with WOF tastes stale or slightly rancid. When this occurs, the food also develops a bit of a cardboard texture.
This phenomenon tends to occur when chicken or fish has been in the refrigerator for a full day. The next day, the meat already has a warmed-over flavor while it’s cold, but when we heat it up, it gets even worse.
What Makes Reheated Chicken Taste Funny?
There are a few reasons why chicken develops a strange flavor and texture when it’s saved as a leftover and then reheated.
While your food cools in the refrigerator, the oxygen in the air around it interacts with the meat’s polyunsaturated fatty acids. This exposure to oxygen speeds up the deterioration of the polyunsaturated fatty acids. The flavor of your refrigerated chicken changes as a result of a series of chemical reactions, and that’s before we try to reheat it.
This same process happens with other leftovers, especially those that are protein-rich. Since chicken has lots of polyunsaturated fatty acids, the effect is more pronounced. It can also be exacerbated by how we store our chicken breast leftovers.
How to Keep Chicken Flavorful in the Refrigerator
There are some tricks you can use to prevent your chicken from developing funny flavors and poor texture. Most of them are pretty easy to do and will make a huge difference in the quality of your leftover chicken taste. These tricks also work for fish, as it also has lots of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Don’t Overcook Your Chicken
The first time you cook your chicken, make sure to use methods that don’t overcook it. For instance, the sous vide method cooks chicken and other meats to a precise internal temperature. Other methods work very well too.
The important thing is that you use only medium heat and a meat thermometer. This way, you avoid a safety issue because you know your poultry has reached a proper temperature, and you also don’t overcook it and dry it out, making it harder to reheat.
Properly cooked chicken has much less risk of food poisoning than chicken that never reached the proper internal temperature.
Use Sauces to Lock-In the Flavor
If you cook your chicken with some sauce, make some extra. That way, you can package your leftover food in a thick coating of sauce, making an effective barrier to air.
The kind of chicken you’ve made doesn’t matter. Whether a whole chicken or chicken wings, coating them in a single layer of sauce or even olive oil will help minimize its interaction with the air and the oxygen in it.
If your sauce also contains oregano or rosemary, the effect will be even more pronounced, as both are antioxidants that will slow the chemical interactions of the fatty acids and oxygen.
Store Chicken Properly
If you can prevent your protein-rich food from becoming over-exposed to the air, you can slow the chemical reactions that make it deteriorate. So, you can use sauces, olive oil, or chicken broth to surround it and protect it.
And for the best results, you can store it in an airtight container or plastic wrap to further lock in the flavor and moisture while keeping the damaging oxygen outside.
Do the Right Prep
To make sure your food tastes right when you reheat it, you should make sure it won’t dry out and that it takes only minimum heat to get it piping hot. So, start by taking your chicken out of the refrigerator an hour or two before you’ll reheat it, allowing it to reach room temperature.
Then, sprinkle a little bit of lemon juice mixed with chicken broth over the top. Doing so won’t change the overall, but the citrus will introduce freshness, and the moisture will help prevent the chicken from drying out.
Reheating Your Chicken
The best method to reheat your chicken requires more work than the easy method of popping it in the microwave. The best reheating methods for chicken are the oven or the stovetop. Using a baking dish or a frying pan is more work than using a microwave-safe dish, but it pays off. Plus, you can get the skin crispy again.
Microwaves upset the water molecules, altering the texture and rapidly drying it out, and the skin won’t crisp. So, If you want to preserve the flavor of the original dish, reheat it the same way you cooked it the first time.
Here are a few other tips for using leftover chicken.
Why does chicken change flavor when reheated?
Chemical reactions during storage alter the flavor of the chicken.
Why should you not reheat chicken?
You should reheat your chicken to a proper internal temperature to minimize the risk of food poisoning.
How do you reheat chicken so it doesn’t taste funny?
The best way to reheat chicken is to make sure it isn’t dried out or ruined in storage. Then, you can reheat it the same way you cooked it originally.
How do you get rid of chicken aftertaste?
Chicken can have a relatively strong flavor. So, to eliminate its aftertaste, you might want to have something on your plate with something even more potent, like lemon, orange, or vinegar flavors.
If you store your leftover chicken properly in the fridge and keep it moist while reheating, it will be less likely to taste bad. Add a little extra sauce or liquid, and don’t overheat it. It might still not taste completely fresh, but yesterday’s chicken can still make for a good meal.