QUICK THREE-INGREDIENT RECIPES on the table in less than 30 minutes are everywhere. So are pleas from restaurant owners that customers remain patient. It appears that, collectively, we need to chill. As it turns out, so does our food. 

It’s common to feel uninterested in eating right after cooking. Home cooks ask for solutions in multiple Reddit threads, and comments boil down to, “This is why chefs live on midnight snacks,” blaming everything from olfactory fatigue to a phenomenon known as “fullness from tasting” and general sensory overload. But home cooks can build more flexibility into their routine than chefs can into their jobs, and one solution actually improves your food.

I tried cooking at different times to improve my appetite just as I started hearing from restaurateurs about how a cooldown improves their dishes. Any fan of chili or breakfast pizza already knows that food can improve the day after it’s cooked. What’s less often discussed is the glory of partial assembly for the best experience when you do eat: improvements to flavor and texture, a meal that doesn’t seem like leftovers and a fresh palate.

The first cooks I heard mention that chilling food midway through cooking improved their recipes were the creators of two of my favorite side dishes: Brian Chandler’s potato salad at Cookie’s Country Chicken (1744 N.W. Market St., Seattle), and Talya Miller’s macaroni and cheese at The Comfort Zone (5016 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle). Neither got into the science, but both said that a refrigerated pause to cool the potatoes (Chandler) or pasta and cheese sauce (Miller) made a difference.

The science exists, and has to do with how starches lose their crystalline structure during cooking (getting softer and more gelatinous), and regain it when chilled. In a nutshell, chilling shoves flavor molecules back into the starch; reheating slides many of them back to the surface or into the sauce. Chilling cooked meat has similarities, but involves gels from collagen. Cream cheese-based sauce such as Miller’s benefits from both.


These molecular changes matter. When making Chandler’s salad and attempting to duplicate Miller’s mac, I’ve found a rest worthwhile, with the trickiest part finding fridge space for pans. Because I taste the sauces before they go into the fridge, my palate rests along with the components, but combining the sauce and starch hours later keeps their textures and appearance fresh.

A key point is that the heat/chill/heat process has diminishing returns, because the ingredients break down more each time. My ideal is to make a double batch of a dish early in the morning or a full day ahead. Half is immediately frozen, to eat weeks or months later. The remainder goes into the fridge as components (as with mac and cheese) or as a completed dish such as cholent. Each meal is chilled and reheated only once, so pasta doesn’t get gummy, vegetables don’t fall apart and meat doesn’t get stringy. Yes; I might cook on a day when my planned dinner comes from a restaurant, but I’m well stocked with options on the days when I don’t want to cook. 

For different reasons, chilling is key in baking as well. Flora Bakehouse (1511 S. Lucile St., Seattle) recommends it with its kimchee blue cheese scones, and Coping Cookies (1828 12th Ave., Seattle) does it routinely with its thick, soft cookies. Again, the experts turn out to be correct. Scones spread less, pie crust is flakier and cookies are better in countless ways.

Coping Cookies co-owners Sam Padilla and Ashley Hernandez explained in an email why it matters. “We chill our cookies because they are rich with butter. The butter, or whichever chosen fat, needs to be chilled to appropriately expand when baking. If the butter isn’t chilled, you get a lot of spread with little rise, and the cookies look more like dense little saucers. When we chill the dough, we’re also letting our added flavors and mix-ins marinate! The color of the dough gets deeper as the glucose sits, and the flavors intertwine enough to stand out once baked into textural goodness.”

Aren’t intertwined flavors and textural goodness what we all want? Add in a palate that’s happy for a break and less last-minute dinner stress, and you might find yourself embracing the chill.