The word itself sounds like a bit of an insult.
Left over. As in – “Not good enough to be eaten on the first go ’round”. As such, any leftovers found in one’s refrigerator are likely to have been regulated to second class status. Some are left alone, only to be thrown out a week later, long after the food has been in it’s prime.
There are some food to which this fate is justified. Seafood is fairly obvious, but items such as rice and french fries don’t hold up well when re-heated. These items are rarely put in a take home container when we’re packing up food not eaten at a restaurant. We know before hand that they’ll simply take up space before we toss them out.
But there are foods out there that thrive in their leftover state. This point was driven home this week after making our latest iteration of Texas Chili. Straight from the cooking pot, it was good. But after spending two days in the refrigerator, it was amazing (after being properly reheated of course).
The reason for this is likely the same one that explains why Indian buffets are better than almost any other buffet out there. Once in the refrigerator, the ingredients have time to mingle with one another. Both meat and fat are exposed to the spices and the flavors, altering the taste just enough to make any subsequent consumption a different experience from the initial serving.
There’s this very American attitude towards food that I roughly interpret as “fear of the old”. This fear, likely based on health concerns, almost forces us to eschew any food that shows signs of aging. The American palate migrates away from such things as aged cheese. We prefer our vegetables and fruits to have a shelf life of forever, in lieu of any that ripen (and then rot) too quickly. Aging meat is now nearly a lost art. I wonder if this is related to why we’ve also lost the skill of determining what makes for decent leftovers.