Does Too Much Fridge Mean Too Little Flavor?
Maybe we're being a little overzealous about keeping things cold
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Here’s Melissa facilitating a conversation on refrigeration with my friend (and her partner) Rick Easton, owner-baker at Bread and Salt in Jersey City, New Jersey. Now, if you don’t know Rick, one thing you should know about him aside from the fact that he makes great pizza: He truly does not hold back when he has an opinion on something, from inequality in the U.S. to whether we should be refrigerating our vegetables. Read on and or listen in.
And members — join us on Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. EST to weigh in on questions and comments about what goes in the fridge. Bread? Cake? Tomatoes? Strawberries? Onions?
Here’s a bit from the audio:
Melissa: I have three categories I want to talk about. Let’s first talk about vegetables. Mark, remember a few years ago when we went to [Camino] in Oakland? They had all these little plates of vegetables out on the counter at room temp and it was super beautiful. And Rick, when we’re at home, you’ll go ahead and serve stuff at room temperature. Talk to us first about whole vegetables and ...when do you need to put them in the refrigerator? Then let’s talk about vegetable dishes — and when you should you put them in the refrigerator.
Rick: I think the answer to that is a nonanswer: It depends. How long are you trying to keep the vegetable, and what is the vegetable? I would never put a tomato in the refrigerator. Not in a million years.
Rick: There are a lot of fruits I would not put in the refrigerator. While other fruits will be great on the counter for a couple of days, if you’re going to buy a bushel of apples and you don’t have a root cellar, you’re going to have to refrigerate those…But then that also begs the question: How are you shopping? How much stuff are you buying at one time? Maybe you should look at that…
[Other things that shouldn’t go in the fridge:] Onions should never go in the refrigerator. Garlic should never go in the refrigerator. Potatoes.
Melissa: Let’s talk about once you prepare something. I made one of Mark’s cabbage salads, for example, and I have extras. So, do I leave that at room temp? Do I put it in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before I eat it?
Rick: I personally would not want to have extra cabbage salad anyway because it’s going to get soggy. Use the rest of the cabbage for something else! Don’t use the whole head of cabbage for two people.
Mark: You’re right, but there is this attitude that if you’re cooking, you might as well cook a bunch because you are going to eat it eventually. Or you should eat it eventually…. I wouldn’t refrigerate the salad the day I’m going to eat it. And I want to be clear this is health and safety considerations aside. I’m just saying what I would do is make it as close to when I’m going to eat it as I could. But I certainly wouldn’t compulsively cover it with Saran Wrap and put it in the refrigerator and then take it out again and eat it cold. And yeah, I’d refrigerate it overnight but if I made it at 10 in the morning and didn’t plan on eating it until dinner, I probably wouldn’t refrigerate that. Same thing if I had made a broccoli dish… or anything that tastes good at room temperature. I would just leave it at room temperature. Roasted peppers….
Rick: I actually would argue that roasted peppers would be a thing that should not ever be refrigerated. So there’s a method I learned about marinated roasted peppers where you want to kind of let them sit overnight at room temperature because they’re going to taste different than if you put them in the refrigerator.
Mark: There’s probably a scientific way to have this conversation that maybe none of us is capable of having. But I think we’d agree that some flavors develop if you leave the food out and some of that is called fermentation.
Melissa: Let’s move on to eggs. You go to, say, Taiwan, to a breakfast stall, and there are stacks and stacks of eggs just sitting out that are being used. And, Mark, you have chickens, so...
Mark: Yeah, I haven’t refrigerated eggs in years.
Rick: I don’t have hard data on this, but what I have heard is, if the eggs have been washed, they have to be refrigerated because there is a protective membrane that has been removed. But because of the hyper-sanitary rules of the USDA, that membrane has been scrubbed off …
[Editor’s note: “The coating is like a little safety vest for the egg, keeping water and oxygen in and bad bacteria out,” NPR reported in “Why The U.S. Chills Its Eggs And Most Of The World Doesn't.” “Washing can damage that layer and ‘increase the chances for bacterial invasion’ into pores or hairline cracks in the shell, according to Yi Chen, a food scientist at Purdue University.” In writing about buying grocery store eggs in the States in On Food and Cooking, food scientist Harold McGee says, "Egg quality deteriorates as much in a day at room temperature as in four days under refrigeration, and salmonella bacteria multiply much faster at room temperature.”]
Melissa: What about cakes and bread?
Mark: Let’s keep the freezer out this, but putting that stuff in the refrigerator: I wouldn’t go so far as to say you might as well throw it out, but it’s really is a mistake.
Rick: I think, never. Never, never, never, never, never... That touches on one of my biggest issues with refrigerators. You have this thing that happens of starch retrogration — any product with starch: beans, potatoes, bread, rice, all of these things — it basically accelerates the staling process and does funny things with the moisture. It also reverses the gelatinization of starch that happens in cooking all of those products. Why would you ever want that? Why would you do that to your bread? Keep it out of plastic and keep it out of the refrigerator.
Listen in for more.