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I find that when I make stews, casseroles, curry’s etc. that they are much nicer after a day or two in the fridge. I understand that it “gives the flavours time to meld” etc, but what actually happens? Is there a way to make it happen first time round?

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  • You might find this interesting: seriouseats.com/2016/02/…
    – moscafj
    Nov 12, 2020 at 13:32
  • I shall be eating tonight's stew, kept in the fridge since Tuesday, with added interest...
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 12, 2020 at 15:06
  • Both are excellent answers, but have gone with the “build it into the recipe” approach. Nov 14, 2020 at 19:43

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I think that your thinking in terms of "leftovers" is what is tripping you up here. Cooking food involves tons of chemical changes, and some of them happen best on the stove, and others need a long period of resting time.

If you have a recipe which tastes better on the second day, then all you have to do is to plan to serve it on the second day. See it as a recipe whose last stage needs 24 hours and happens at fridge tempearature. You wouldn't serve yogurt before it has spent 8 hours at 46 C, because the mixture doesn't taste like yogurt yet. Similarly, you shouldn't serve your "perfect beef stew" before it has spent 24 hours at 4 C, because it doesn't taste like "perfect beef stew" yet.

If you are looking for ways to speed up the process, I don't think these exist. Maturing of foods involves complex chemical reactions, which need their time. This is why many luxury food items let you know how long they were aged.

For a bit of background, see also this question on the process of flavors "marrying".

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I don't know if it's truly "letting flavors meld", and how much of it's other stuffs going on (like the breakdown of larger carbohydrates mentioned at Serious Eats), and how much of it is change in texture due to cooling and then reheating. Alton Brown made use of this in his Good Eats beef stew recipe by roasting the meat then allowing it to cool.

For the "flavor melding" aspect, you can try to add alcohol (a solvent) to your dish to try to extract flavors faster and let them mix with the rest of the dish more easily. But I would recommend using it sparingly, or the flavor of the alcohol (even for a neutral spirit) can be off-putting to some people.

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  • And the alcohol might result in a "brighter" flavor, which Kenji said is actually lost in leftovers ... so its possible that it might actually be counter-productive. (Another reason to use it sparingly)
    – Joe
    Nov 12, 2020 at 14:21
  • The "brightness" Kenji is referring to is from acids, like vinegar or citrus, which are chemically different from alcohol. One would need to test that specifically to draw any conclusions. Nov 20, 2020 at 11:40
  • @AlexReinking : many alcohols are acidic. Wine tends to have a pH between 3 and 4, but the sugars in it mask the acidity. And it's also possible that the 'brightness' coms from fresh herbs whose flavors don't hold up after storage.
    – Joe
    Nov 20, 2020 at 14:53
  • That's not quite how I read your comment. Wine has tartaric acid, yes, but flavors dissolved in the ethanol and the flavor of the ethanol itself might or might not remain. Nov 20, 2020 at 15:22

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