How to Microwave Leftover Pasta and Rice Without Drying It Out

How to Microwave Leftover Pasta and Rice Without Drying It Out
Freeze! If you heat it up like this, you will dry it out. (Photo: Vinicius Bacarin, Shutterstock)

In recent weeks, you may have seen a recipe for a salmon rice bowl making the rounds on TikTok. In this recipe, TikTok user Emily Mariko puts leftover salmon on a plate and covers it with day-old rice. She then places an ice cube in the rice, covers it all up with a parchment paper, and puts it in the microwave for a minute. During the minute it is in the microwave, the ice cube remains mostly intact, creating a steam that rehydrates the leftover rice.

As delicious as the salmon rice bowl is, Mariko’s technique with the ice cube is a hack that can be used in other ways, and it can be modified. It’s true that the microwave is a lifesaver when you want to quickly heat up leftovers — but it’s also true that it can turn certain types of food, such as rice, into a dry, tasteless mess. As Mariko has demonstrated, this doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to heat up leftovers in the microwave without drying them out; you just need to find a way to add steam.

Using an ice cube to microwave leftover pasta

As you’ve seen with rice, putting an ice cube on top of your leftover rice creates enough steam to soften and rehydrate. This trick can also be used with pasta dishes. If you have leftover pasta, simply spread it out on a plate, place an ice cube on top and cover it up. If you don’t have parchment paper on hand, a paper towel will also do.

With pasta, if you need to microwave the leftovers for longer than a minute, stir it about once a minute, and keep an eye on that cube. It helps to spread out the pasta into a thin layer, which will help it heat evenly, while also cutting down on the amount of time it needs to microwave. When I tried this with some leftover spaghetti and veggie “meatballs,” a minute was enough, and the results tasted almost as good as fresh.

(I cut the meatballs into small pieces before microwaving to heat them more evenly, although another trick would be to reheat them separately in an air fryer until they are hot and crispy: 3-5 minutes at 180 C should do the trick.)

Using a damp paper towel

An alternative to using an ice cube is to sprinkle a bit of water over leftover rice or noodles, and cover with a damp paper towel. The moisture will create enough steam to rehydrate the leftovers, and the paper towel will prevent it from escaping. Lifehacker’s Managing Editor Meghan Walbert recently reported to me that she tried this method with leftover Pad Thai, and the results were pleasing.

In the interests of science, I compared using the ice cube method versus the damp paper towel paper method by reheating two separate batches of leftover spaghetti. For this test, I used an equivalent amount for each batch, spreading a thin layer of pasta onto the plate, and then microwaved both for a minute.

Both methods worked equally well, although using an ice cube was definitely a little more fun (seeing that intact ice cube come out of the microwave is startling). Anecdotally, it also helps to let the leftovers rest for a minute under the cover after microwaving to really let the steam penetrate.

What I did not do for this experiment is microwave a control batch of spaghetti without any steaming method. That’s because I’ve reheated enough pasta in the past this way to know just how sad the results are.

How to reheat pasta with cream sauce

Reheating a pasta dish with cream sauce, such as Alfredo or macaroni and cheese, is more complicated due to the high fat content. When a sauce with a high fat content cools down, it separates into oil and water, so you will need to do a lot of stirring and be careful not to overdo the moisture. It can also help to add in a splash of milk to the leftovers.

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