Warm Me Up, Cool Me Down (Your Serving Dishes, That Is)

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There’s an eye-rolling threshold for home cooks when it comes to chef tricks. At some point, a chef will tell the home cook to do something that causes them (at least internally) to roll their eyes. “You want me to peel chickpeas before making hummus? REALLY?” That sort of thing. And I have to confess, even though the large majority of chefs I met writing my cookbook advised me to warm my serving dishes before serving hot food and chilling my dishes before serving cold food (like a salad), I secretly rolled my eyes at the idea. “I’ll never really do that,” I told myself.

Only, lately, I’ve started doing it and it’s such an easy thing to do and it makes a really nice difference. I say “nice difference” instead of “big difference” because I don’t think it dramatically changes your eating experience, it just makes it nicer to eat pasta from a warm bowl and salad from a cold plate.

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Chilling your plates requires nothing more than throwing the plates into the fridge an hour before your guests arrive. Warming your plates is slightly trickier. Not really, though.

Heat your oven pretty low–200 degrees works nicely–and put your plates on a cookie sheet so you can take them in and out easily. Pop them in until they’re warm to the touch, about 15 minutes or so. Be sure to warn your guests that the plates are hot before you set them down.

And there you are. Are you rolling your eyes yet?

18 comments

  1. I have to say, I was forced/taught to do this in culinary school, but I really never do it at home. I don’t know why. You’ve convinced me to start!

  2. What do you do if the last dish you’re preparing requires more than a 200 degree oven?

  3. Works because it keeps hot food warm and cold food cool while everyone is still getting situated at the table. And my experience is as soon as you remind your guests that the plate is hot 60% of them will test it! LOL! It’s why my new stove has a warming drawer!

  4. Take the food out of the hot oven–chances are it’ll need to rest a bit anyway (especially if it’s meat)–lower to 200 and pop your plates in. The residual heat from the hotter oven will probably heat them up faster, so keep checking.

  5. No way. I have so many last minute things going on it’s a wonder dinner even gets on the table. Eye rolling. Ask me again in 10 years when the kids are grown…perhaps I will have escaped this madhouse time.

  6. While we don’t chill our salad plates, Hubs and I often warm our dinner plates. Possibly it’s because we live in an old house with inadequate insulation in the back kitchen wall and all dinnerware in the cupboard on that wall is ice cold in the winter. Even just setting dinner plates on the back of the stove while preparing the meal makes all the difference in how long warm food stays warm…and utimately how much we enjoy the meal.

  7. i (almost) always heat our plates before dinner and the BF thinks i’m insane but it’s the perfect way to keep my food warm from the time i plate it to when i finally actually sit down and eat it. it makes SUCH a big difference. I’m not AS concerned about chilling the plates though

  8. My husband, after working in restaurant kitchens, is fanatical about heating plates, so we do it for every meal. I have to admit that it does keep the food warm while we do all the last-minute dinner preparations (“Where are the napkins?” “Oops…forgot to get a glass of water.”) Not sure why we are so picky about the hot food but don’t worry as much about the cold….

  9. We usually turn the oven right off – there’s more than enough heat to warm your plates (saves energy, too). But you do have to be careful that they don’t get too hot. If the oven has been at a high temperature, not only can you burn yourself, but the plates can get hot enough to actually fry the food!

  10. I have to agree, I do love heating up the plates before the meal. One thing that I’ve found to be hugely helpful is that our dishwasher does have a setting to heat the plates. They come out nice and warm without over heating and will hold them ere for a good 15 minutes.

  11. So many posts in the past two days! I feel spoiled as a reader. I hope you’re not going to go silent for the rest of the week after this atypical flurry of activity.

  12. Hahaha! I love warm plates/bowls, but I dont like it when my salad plate comes cold. Dunno, maybe I’m just nuts! But thanks for the oven temp – will keep that in mind!

  13. I tend to think restaurants need to heat the serving dishes or diners plates is the result of needing to keep food at an appropriate temperature as it travels through the service chain–when the stove is 15 feet from the table, I don’t bother. But I do warm a teapot before putting fresh water and tea into it; I also choose coffee mugs that hold beverages hot for a longer period.

  14. Our cabinets are on an outside wall, making our plates really cold in the winter. We’ve been putting them in an oven just preheated to 120, or even on the glass cooktop after a burner has been set on high for 20 seconds. Doesn’t take long to take the chill off, and not much longer to get nicely warmed. But we never try to make them piping hot — that’s just asking for trouble.

  15. My mom always heats serving dishes by filling them with hot water about ten minutes before she pours out the water and puts in the food. I roll my eyes at it, but it does seem to keep the food hotter for longer. (It seems like one of those techniques that went out the window when cooks became ‘microwave natives’.)

  16. I do like warmed plates (never really thought of chilling them, but why not? it’d be great for salads, especially). I usually “warm” mine by sitting them on my glass cooktop when the oven is on – the residual heat from the oven gets them slightly warm. I really wouldn’t want them to be hot, but in the wintertime when plates in my cabinet are frosty-feeling, the heat radiating from the oven is nice.

  17. For the record, you can also stack your plates in the oven instead of separating them on a half sheet pan. Makes it easier to heat a lot of plates for a dinner party. (That’s how we do it in the restaurant.)

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