To refrigerate or not to refrigerate

By Chef David “Smitty” Smith ·

061914-StirItUp

 

Bananas
Let ripen at room temperature
Store in refrigerator to stop ripening process
Peel will darken in refrigerator, but not affect taste

Cut produce
Always store items in the refrigerator once cut

Onions
Never put in the refrigerator
Store in a cool, dry place
Do not store with potatoes

Potatoes
Never put in the refrigerator
Store in a cool, dry place
Do not store with onions

Tomatoes
Never put in the refrigerator
Can ripen in the sun
Once ripe, store in a cool, dry place

 

Lately, I’ve been talking about super foods, and I was going to stay on the subject due to the level of interest it has been getting, but I had an interesting question come up and thought it needed addressing. “Why do my potatoes taste funny?”

At first thought, I had no idea what Kathy meant, so we had a little investigative conversation to try and figure out what was going on. I asked if it only happened when she cooked them a certain way and she said no, it didn’t matter how she prepared them. Since it didn’t seem to matter how she was preparing them, I asked what she was adding to them, which still gave me no clue as to why they would taste weird. The answer was that it didn’t matter how she cooked them or what she added, they just had a kind of off taste. Then, as we were talking, she mentioned the refrigerator. Right away that struck a note and I asked where she kept the potatoes and she said in the refrigerator so that they wouldn’t start growing those roots you get as the spuds get older.

That was the answer that told me what was happening. It’s been a while since I learned a lot of this information during my apprenticeship and a lot of the questions asked, I have to look up again to be sure I’m right with my answers, but this one was a question I still could answer. You do not want to store potatoes in the refrigerator. What happens is that the starch in the potato will turn to sugar due to the cold. The higher concentration of sugars will change the flavor and those extra sugars will leave your potatoes with a funky flavor no matter what you do with them. I also seemed to remember that when cooked they turn a darker color than normal, which Kathy said did happen. Store your potatoes in a cool dark place and never in the refrigerator. Also avoid keeping them in a plastic bag, as they will last longer with air.

Are there other things you shouldn’t refrigerate? Absolutely: the main two items that people store in the fridge that belong on the counter or in the pantry someplace are onions and tomatoes. For tomatoes, it depends on how ripe they are and when you want to eat them as to where on the counter. If you want them to ripen a little faster, let them get a little sun and if they are already ripe enough, just let them sit at room temperature out of the sun. Kept in the refrigerator, the tomato will get soft and mealy and lose a lot of its flavor.

As for the onion, it too will turn soft in the refrigerator. It will pass on its onion flavor to everything else in the fridge due to the gases that are in an onion. Onions should be kept, like potatoes, in a cool, dry area out of the sun. They also need air circulation to keep fresh, so you don’t want to keep them in a plastic bag either. Also, because both onions and potatoes give off gases as they are sitting around, you want to keep them separated or they will cause each other to go bad sooner.

That brings us to one more item that I constantly hear about keeping well away from the fridge. The banana probably gets more publicity than any of the other things as far as keeping it out of the refrigerator. The thing is this isn’t totally correct. Yes, you should always let bananas ripen on the counter at room temperature. Putting them in the fridge before they are ripe will stop the ripening process and that cannot be undone. Once ripe, however, if you aren’t going to eat them right away, put them in the refrigerator and they will last a few extra days. The peel will turn an ugly brown, but the flesh will still taste fine.

The easiest way to remember where to or how to store fruits and vegetables is to go by how they are stored when you buy them. If they are not refrigerated in the market, don’t put them in the fridge at home. We constantly hear about how a frost kills a whole fruit crop, so just imagine your refrigerator doing basically the same thing. Once cut into, yes, put them in the fridge to keep them until you finish them. Also, when you are buying potatoes or onions, pick the ones that feel solid to the touch as opposed to the softer ones and they will have a longer shelf life.

On a side note: I’m adding my other e-mail address because sometimes e-mails take a long time to open on my Chef Smitty site and I sometimes give up, so if you have any questions on any recipe giving you a hard time or want ideas for anything, you might have better luck getting me at: [email protected]. Thanks and enjoy.

 

Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. He has been a chef for PGA’s Memorial Tournament for more than 15 years and ran the main kitchen at the World Games. For more information and archived copies of Stir it Up, visit chefsmitty.com. Smitty welcomes questions and comments at [email protected], [email protected] or (530) 412-3598.

 

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Chef Smitty
Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. Smitty has been teaching skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows for more than 26 years each winter, and spends his summers working for High Sierra Waterski School since 2000. Smitty has been writing his chef column for Tahoe Weekly since 2005.