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Mar 11, 2011 12:08 PM

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

I see this instruction a lot in recipes. Why?

I was cooking pork belly recently, and I was supposed to let the meat cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it to allow for cleaner slicing. I think it was in one of Thomas Keller's recipes where a bowl of freshly made stock is supposed to be placed in an ice water bath, stirred to cool to room temp as quickly as possible, then placed in the fridge. Seems like a lot of extra work.

Why wouldn't I just put it in the fridge? Is it a matter of raising the temperature of the entire refrigerator? Is there some food safety issue I'm unaware of? I've heard/read about some stocks going "off" if cooled in anaerobic conditions, but my sense is that this is not a unilaterally held belief. And if that were the issue, why wouldn't the instructions address it as a sealed/unsealed situation?

Any insight on this?

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  1. Yes, it's about raising the temperature of the other foods in the refrigerator as meats go. As baked goods go, you don't want to create steam.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chowser

      not just raising the temp of other foods in the fridge, but also if the hot item is thick, the insides won't cool fast enough and theoretically can grow harmful bacteria. if you don't want to do an ice-water bath or let it cool at room temp (which can also be potentially harmful if you leave out for more than an hour or two), it's best to portion it into single-serve containers. it will cool much faster at room temp and if you don't have that much of it, you can stick it straight in the fridge. i'll cool soups and stews a bit, then ladle into food-safe resealable bags, secure, and lie them flat in the fridge. the surface area exposed to the cold helps them cool completely within half an hour. as for meats, i'll slice them (same with my stuffed peppers) into thinner pieces before spreading in pyrex and cooling in the fridge.

    2. My gut reaction would align with your comment re. raising the refrigerator temperature and thereby risking bacteria growth in other foods in that environment. I have found that loading the meat into a food grade plastic bag (top open) and immersing it in a pan of cold water helps get the temperature down more quickly. Floating a tray of ice cubes in the water helps things move faster, the food doesn't get wet, the temp. comes down about twice as fast as leaving it sit at room temp. (which I try to avoid).

      1. When I make broth or soup using meat or poultry (usually poultry) I always cool the liquid before refrigerating. If you put the hot broth in the fridge, you won't get that clean line of fat sitting on top of the broth. The fat can be removed easily for a leaner broth, but also importantly, the fat helps preserve the broth from spoilage. When I have placed the hot broth in the fridge, the fat doesn't come cleanly up--that's the best explanation I can give. There is also the factor, that a lot of hot liquid, or a hot pork belly, might lower the temp of the fridge.

        1. I have a magic counter in my kitchen. Nothing ever seems to go bad. I let things cool.....sometimes overnight (oops, I forgot again), then pop it into the fridge. We have never gotten sick.
          It does help to let meats cool before cutting. Let your pork belly cool a few hours on a stainless steel cookie rack, then refrigerate.
          Cooks in restaurants have the health department to worry about, so their mantra is Zero-Risk-that is why Keller suggests cooling the stock as quickly as possible, but cooking at home is another thing altogether.