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Does leaving a stew overnight really improve the flavor?


Chris Hill
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Allowing a pot of chili or stew or a braised brisket to cool and age overnight certainly makes it better. As with many foods a little fermentation adds new and evolved flavors. Given the average home fridge's ability (or lack thereof) to quickly cool hot things, I wonder if a little microbe activity improves things.

I very much doubt it, the average stew is pretty much sterile at the end of cooking and any newly introduce microbes don't have enough time to get established enough to proceed with fermentation.

PS: I am a guy.

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Any soup/stew/braised dish that combines multiple ingredients improves with some age. The flavors marry and the dish becomes much more finely integrated. If I have the time, I'll cook a multiple ingredient dish to be served the same day as early as I can as it benefits greatly from resting for several hours before serving. If the dish has noodles or beans and gets a little thick, just add some broth and reheat gently.

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I'll repeat myself: Fats absorb odours, as well as flavours. If there is fats or oils in the sauce and/or meat, they will take on the surrounding flavour .

Sure, but over what timescale (and temperature) does this occur? Are there significantly more fat soluble molecules dissolved in the fats after overnight resting, and what about the same for the water component? If it really is the reason for improved flavour then can the effect be reproduced by simmering for longer? At what point do you reach equilibrium?

No real tempertaure zone. Surely you must have noticed that when you put a block of unwrapped butter in the fridge next to a raw onion, it takes on odours?.

Don't understand about fat soluable molecules dissolved in..whatever. There is fat in the meat, there is fat in the sacue (roux, other oils or fats). The fats take on the flavours and odours of the surrounding ingredients.

Kind of like a fruitcake, tastes better after a week or so; the butter and eggs have taken in the surrounding flavours.

Don't think simmering will reproduce this effect--just time. Well, O.K. you can simmer for a great length of time,but at a certain point you will destroy the texture of the ingredients and flat-line the sauce.

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Any soup/stew/braised dish that combines multiple ingredients improves with some age. The flavors marry and the dish becomes much more finely integrated. If I have the time, I'll cook a multiple ingredient dish to be served the same day as early as I can as it benefits greatly from resting for several hours before serving. If the dish has noodles or beans and gets a little thick, just add some broth and reheat gently.

In the world of science (the 21st Century world), declaring someting to be true is not enough to be accepted as true. On the internet, such a declaration is less accepted as truth.

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Probably......

I don't claim to be a scientist--never made past Gr. 12 chemistry, never read Alton Brown, and never even stayed in a Holiday Inn, but ....

I apply what I do know, to cooking and baking.

Now, take for instance gravity:

I've never seen an apple drop from a tree, or thrown stuff off the tower of Pizza, but I know gravity. In baking-- for instance, baking a blind 9" single crust shell, I can either fight gravity, or use it to my advantage. To fight it, I can line out a 9" pie pan with dough, place a coffee filter in it, and load it up with beans or weights and hope for the best. Gravity will pull the dough down to the hieght of the beans, or even lower, so I have to compensate with higher wall pie pans or more beans.

To use gravity to my advantage, I take the same lined 9" tin, stick an other tin on top of it (so the dough is "sandwiched" between the two tins), invert the assembly on a tray, and bake it. I let gravity do it's thing and pull the crust down.while baking. When cool, I flip over the assembly, remove the first one, and get a perfect baked crust with minimal--if any--shrinkage.

Thus endeth my flirtation with gravity.

With flavour, I use the same techniques.

I know fat is a flavour (and colour, and odour) absorber. l use this to my advantage.

Now, I do know that some vitamins are water soluable and some are fat soluable. I know some chemicals are water soluable, some alcohol soluable, some Ether soluable, etc.

I know that every recipie for vanilla icecream or vanilla custard, vanilla sacue, etc. tells me to "ripen" the mix ovenight. I know that vanilla custard contains milk and cream, both of which contain milk fat. I know that egg yolks contain fat. I know that the vanilla bean's flavour is both fat souable and alcohol suluable.

I know that, according to Escoffier, the best fat for sauting/sweating soup vegetables is "boullion fat", or the fat that is skimmed off stocks. I know for a fact that this fat carries a lot of flavour from it's ingredients. I know that many "ethnic" recipies include the use of Schmaltz or rendered down animal fat, which carries a tremedous amount of flavour.

I know that many Chefs store their truffles in a tighlty sealed jar with cubed butter, (see J. Peterson, "Sauces") I know for a fact that this butter, after a minimum of 12 hours, positively reeks of truffle.

I know that compound butters (Cafe de Paris, Maitre D', etc) have much more flavour if allowed to rest at least 12 hours. I know that butter contains at least 822% milk fat.

I know that when making ganaches and flavoured chocolate, if I infuse, say, spices, with warm cocoa butter overnight and fliter out the spices (theoritically it's sawdust) my cocoa butter is intensly flavoured and can be combined with couverture, giving my chocolate a strong flvour with no "contaimation" of foreign matter.

I know that if I peel an orange, or lemon, or grapefruit and spray myself, what I have sprayed myself with is not juice, but the volatile oils from directly under the skin of the fruit, and very hard to remove from my skin. I smell like oranges for the whole day....

I know that many food manufactures use distilled oils rather than compounds or flavourings in quality foods. I.E. peppermint oil, citrus oils, or, in the case of Coca-cola, numeg oil.

But what I don't have is scientific mumbo-jumbo to say the same thing, other than, Fats absorb flavours,

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That's my experience with stews too, and, hey, the stuff about fat absorbing flavor makes sense to me. And I think demanding an explanation of why something is true before accepting that it's true is getting it completely backwards. But I think he's saying that if you're going to make a categorical statement you should be able to back it up with something peer-reviewed, which seems fair enough.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Actually, if you're describing something as being based on your experience, peer review is by no means required. I'm picky as hell about accuracy (I make my living nitpicking), but these days, even less-than-attentive school children are aware of the phenomena of diffusion and oxidation.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Actually, if you're describing something as being based on your experience, peer review is by no means required. I'm picky as hell about accuracy (I make my living nitpicking), but these days, even less-than-attentive school children are aware of the phenomena of diffusion and oxidation.

There are people who still believe that menstruating women prevent sauces from thickening. I don't hold much credence in personal observation unless backed by at least some degree of rigorousness.

For a long time, many people assumed that the "stall" observed in BBQ cooking was due to collagen conversion. While collagen conversion does occur and does take some amount of energy, the observed amounts were orders of magnitude too low to account for stall. It wasn't until Mhyrvold and a couple of other scientists decided to test it that we finally figured out it was almost entirely due to evaporation.

PS: I am a guy.

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Actually, if you're describing something as being based on your experience, peer review is by no means required. I'm picky as hell about accuracy (I make my living nitpicking), but these days, even less-than-attentive school children are aware of the phenomena of diffusion and oxidation.

But he wasn't.

Obviously "I think that" or "based on my experience" or "the Bible says" or "my sainted Nanna taught me" obviate the need but if I just up and baldly say "most serial killers prefer the Beatles over the Rolling Stones" you'd be right to ask for my sources. Call me anti-elitist but I'm prejudiced like that.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Actually, if you're describing something as being based on your experience, peer review is by no means required. I'm picky as hell about accuracy (I make my living nitpicking), but these days, even less-than-attentive school children are aware of the phenomena of diffusion and oxidation.

There are people who still believe that menstruating women prevent sauces from thickening. I don't hold much credence in personal observation unless backed by at least some degree of rigorousness.

For a long time, many people assumed that the "stall" observed in BBQ cooking was due to collagen conversion. While collagen conversion does occur and does take some amount of energy, the observed amounts were orders of magnitude too low to account for stall. It wasn't until Mhyrvold and a couple of other scientists decided to test it that we finally figured out it was almost entirely due to evaporation.

Quite a jump there, from 'observation' to 'statement', since no one can accurately say they've 'observed' that the presence of menstruating women has any effect on food whatsoever; that sort of statement is a 'belief' (if you want to be charitable; 'a lie', 'imbecilic notion', or 'indication of insanity', if you're not feeling charitable), and has no basis in observation, scientific or otherwise.

If I say 'I've observed that the flavour of stews alters overnight', that is an actual observation. if I say, 'I've observed diffusion/oxidation in stews', you'd be completely justified in saying that unless I've correctly used a variety of pieces of equipment to observe and document this, I'm a liar/idiot with no grasp of English. I could say that I've read in a reliable source that this takes place, but frankly, I don't believe that I have read about this occuring in stews, specifically. On the other hand, I have observed diffusion in various substances (using dyes and so on on) in chemistry classes, and it seems reasonable to extrapolate the laws of chemistry from the classroom to the kitchen.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Actually, if you're describing something as being based on your experience, peer review is by no means required. I'm picky as hell about accuracy (I make my living nitpicking), but these days, even less-than-attentive school children are aware of the phenomena of diffusion and oxidation.

There are people who still believe that menstruating women prevent sauces from thickening. I don't hold much credence in personal observation unless backed by at least some degree of rigorousness.

For a long time, many people assumed that the "stall" observed in BBQ cooking was due to collagen conversion. While collagen conversion does occur and does take some amount of energy, the observed amounts were orders of magnitude too low to account for stall. It wasn't until Mhyrvold and a couple of other scientists decided to test it that we finally figured out it was almost entirely due to evaporation.

Quite a jump there, from 'observation' to 'statement', since no one can accurately say they've 'observed' that the presence of menstruating women has any effect on food whatsoever; that sort of statement is a 'belief' (if you want to be charitable; 'a lie', 'imbecilic notion', or 'indication of insanity', if you're not feeling charitable), and has no basis in observation, scientific or otherwise.

If I say 'I've observed that the flavour of stews alters overnight', that is an actual observation. if I say, 'I've observed diffusion/oxidation in stews', you'd be completely justified in saying that unless I've correctly used a variety of pieces of equipment to observe and document this, I'm a liar/idiot with no grasp of English. I could say that I've read in a reliable source that this takes place, but frankly, I don't believe that I have read about this occuring in stews, specifically. On the other hand, I have observed diffusion in various substances (using dyes and so on on) in chemistry classes, and it seems reasonable to extrapolate the laws of chemistry from the classroom to the kitchen.

Plenty of people "observe" things incorrectly all the time. They might "observe" that their favorite high-priced vodka is far smoother than a middle ranged vodka or that this organic egg tastes far better than an industrial egg or that the MSG in Chinese food gives them a headache but it later gets revealed that the vodkas and the eggs were the same and this sample of Chinese food actually contained no MSG.

PS: I am a guy.

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Interestingly in the scientific method typically observation precedes experimentation. Testing whether something isn't incorrect is at the heart of the scientific method (note how this is worded).

I've observed that flavours seem more rounded when the stew/curry is left overnight and am tending towards supporting Michaela and others that flavours diffuse through the stew over time, in the same way that we marinate or pickle meat.

Please all the scientists out there, can you either disprove or explain this? Citing a lack of scientific 'proof' is almost as useless as an assertion of faith.

I'd add that saying that I 'know' these things may be taking things a bit far; let's just say that I hypothesise that they are true based on observation.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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What a derail.

The fat-absorbing-flavors mechanism makes sense to me, but certainly requires testing (if this hasn't already been done) before we start bandying it about as The Truth. Texture changes (which I think actually are documented? Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) are also IIRC associated with extended resting. Supposing these two things are true, that still doesn't mean everyone's going to experience an improvement, simply because other people may have a completely different idea of what a good stew should taste and feel like.

No sciencetalk here, just pointing out "quality" is a pretty ambiguous concept.

Edited by Dakki (log)

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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OK, time to bring some empiricism into this.

I made a Linguica, Kale & Potato Soup tonight. I've separated it into three containers:

Photo 1 (1).jpg

From left to right, the complete stew, just the broth separated out using a salad spinner & just the solids remaining in the salad spinner.

For the two on the right, diffusion cannot happen. If the diffusion hypothesis is correct, there should be a noticeable taste difference between the samples.

I'm going to let it sit in the fridge for 2 days, then taste a) the whole soup, b) the broth alone and c) the solids alone. I'll try and recruit a couple of friends and see if we can make it double blind. I'll report back in 2 days with the results.

PS: I am a guy.

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I never thought of using a salad spinner as a centrifuge. Brilliant! Look forward to your results. Only thing I'd add is to recombine the separated broth and the solids to make the two more equal in sensory terms rather than trying each individually.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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The part of the equation that hasn't been discussed is the movement of salt. Like in a brine the sodium is going to move toward equilibrium as the stew sits. This would "balance" the seasoning through the meat and veggies. That would improve the flavor.

Shalmanese if it wouldn't be too much of a hassle it would be great if you could include a freshly made sample and combine the two parts as Nickrey suggested. That would give you a control and two variables. It will be a small sample but would give some starting data.

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I never thought of using a salad spinner as a centrifuge. Brilliant! Look forward to your results. Only thing I'd add is to recombine the separated broth and the solids to make the two more equal in sensory terms rather than trying each individually.

The procedure I'm going to use is to put the whole soup in the salad spinner, then combine half the whole soup broth with the whole soup solids and half the separated soup broth with the separated soup solids. There's going to be 3 tests: combined whole soup vs combined separated soup, whole soup broth vs separated soup broth & whole soup solids vs separated soup solids.

I don't have a good idea of how to reheat them evenly though, I was thinking of putting both in the microwave...

The part of the equation that hasn't been discussed is the movement of salt. Like in a brine the sodium is going to move toward equilibrium as the stew sits. This would "balance" the seasoning through the meat and veggies. That would improve the flavor.

Shalmanese if it wouldn't be too much of a hassle it would be great if you could include a freshly made sample and combine the two parts as Nickrey suggested. That would give you a control and two variables. It will be a small sample but would give some starting data.

I think the variance between batches is going to be larger than any changes due to aging. If someone else wants to do an experiment, they should order the same stew dish from a good restaurant 2 days apart and taste them blind, under the assumption that restaurants are better able to control consistency than a home cook.

PS: I am a guy.

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I don't have a good idea of how to reheat them evenly though, I was thinking of putting both in the microwave...

Do you have a sous vide setup? Even just a vacuum sealer? The closer they are to the exact same temperature and the exact same re-heat profile the more valid the test will be. Are you planning on a triangle-test setup?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Preliminary update: Haven't had time for a full on tasting yet but I decided to just do a quick tasting of the broth, 2.5 days after making and report back. Had a friend over, I tasted them unblinded, she tasted them blinded.

Summary: There's definitely a difference but it's pretty contrary to my expectations.

Separated Broth: Tastes meatier, richer, slightly darker color, slightly saltier, she said it tasted "more tomatoey"

Combined Broth: Tastes lighter, cleaner, slightly acidic, you can make out the individual flavors easier but they're less integrated.

Overall, both of us rated the separated as tastier and preferred in this tasting.

It's obvious the two broths are different so diffusion is doing something at least although I'm not quite sure what. I was expecting the complete opposite result and had to check my labeling several times to make sure I didn't get them confused.

PS: I am a guy.

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OK, finally had time to do a full tasting. Soup was in the fridge for 4.5 days.

Procedure: I separated the combined soup using the same salad spinner procedure I used for the separated soup. I did a total of 3 trials, soup, then solids, then combined. For each trial, I put 2 of 1 type & 1 of the other type in some tasting bowls, cooked them in the microwave for 1 minute so I didn't know which was which and tried to see if I could spot the odd one out. I then compared them to some reference soup to confirm my diagnosis.

Trial #1:

Photo 6.jpg

On the left is the combined broth, the right is the separated broth. Colorwise, they were pretty much indistinguishable. Taste wise, the difference was moderate but obvious. Like in the preliminary tests, the separated broth had a saltier, roastier, "browner flavor". The combined broth had a slight sourness and tasted far lighter on the tounge.

Trial #2:

Photo 8.jpg

On the left is the combined solids, the right is the separated solids. For this, I tasted each major component 1 by 1. The potatoes were indistinguishable from each other as far as I could tell. The Kale, the difference was large. The kale from the separated soup was bland and dry, the combined soup, it was much juicer and noticably more savory. For the Linguica, the difference was mild. If there was any difference, it was that the separated was slightly spicer.

Trial 3:

Photo 9.jpg

On the left is the combined soup, on the right is the separated. While the separated broth tasted more savory, I would have to say, when you combine it, the combined evens out a bit more. With the combined, the flavors are a bit more harmonious and meld better together. I'd say they were both noticeably different but I'm not entirely sure which is better.

Overall, it was an interesting experiment and I'd love to see other people replicate it with some other dishes. Noticeably in this one was there there were no braised meats where resting for a day or two might have a significant effect on the texture.

PS: I am a guy.

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