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My wife just cooked some 'plof' (an Ashkenazi Jewish recipe). A one pot chicken, rice, onion, carrots dish. All those are in their respective layers.

She just finished cooking it. We're going to go to sleep. She has set her timer to wake up in a few hours to put the whole pot into the fridge.

Is this gradual cooling safe? Especially for a meat dish? Does it matter whether it has meat in it or not?

I don't want to put this hot pot into the fridge because it will raise the temperature of my refrigerator.

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I ended up unloading the plof into a 2" deep baking dish. I let it cool for a little while. Then, I actually covered it in aluminum foil and placed it on top of a cooled gel pad in the fridge (top shelf...that's where the cold air come in from the top freezer). I then put cooling packs on top of the foil. –  milesmeow Jul 23 '13 at 6:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted

There are several things in general that you can do to increase the speed at which food cools down, but two of the most effective are:

  • Increase the surface area. Spread it in a wide, shallow pan, like a sheet pan, rather than a deep pot. This will allow more cooling.

  • Use an ice water bath. Place the container with the food into an ice water bath, being careful not to spill the water into the food. Using a zip style bag to hold the food before putting it into the bath also can help.

    A variation of this, especially for hot stocks or stews, is to freeze water in clean water bottles or zip bags, and place those into the food in addition to the ice bath.

For a pilaf, the first method should work very well.

You can also bring physics to the party:

  • Convection is far more powerful at heat transfer than conduction. A fan for air cooling will help, or running water for water for water cooling will also help, but these are not always practical in kitchen.
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+1 for the great systematic answer. I just wanted to note ... that for pilaf to preserve the layers the second method might be preferable ... but when you are just trying to preserve leftovers this might not be important at all. –  Martin Turjak Jul 22 '13 at 9:09

In my experience to leave a pilaf out to cool down at room temperature shouldn't be a problem when it is freshly cooked. But by letting it sit out for hours the risk of it going off gets higher (and in pilaf the rice might be more likely to go off before the meat, as rice often already contains heat-resistant bacterial spores, e.g. Bacillus cereus).

But to prevent having to get up in the middle of the night, you could place the dish in a cold water bath (with some ice, if you have it) to cool it quicker.

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