Steam ovens and techniques
My husband and I are currently building a new family home. I recently attended a cooking demonstration from a luxury appliance company, where I was introduced to steam ovens. They sounded very versatile but I couldn't find many cookbooks to give an introduction to what you can do. Would you recommend the purchase?
Many thanks, Tina Coombes
To answer your question, you need to consider how often you currently steam food. It may well be that you never steam anything, so you'll need to really believe that you're about to change your eating habits quite considerably before you lay out a considerable wad of cash on an appliance that you may rarely use.
If I were you I'd buy a cheaper alternative, before you build your kitchen, and see how you like it. If it's a style of cooking you think you could warm to, then go for the best you can afford. Affordable alternatives range from the uber-cheap bamboo Chinese steamers that sit on top of a pot or wok that you'll be familiar with from any yum-cha restaurant.
Next in price would be those folding metal trivets with legs, that sit inside a pot filled with a few centimetres of water, which are great for steaming broccoli and the like. An electrical bench steamer is perhaps the closest to what a built-in steam oven could produce because they're multi-layered and have a good amount of surface area on which to lay dishes of fish, meat or even steamed puddings.
The advantage of a built-in steam oven is that they are large, accessed from the front and not the top, they have many racks and trays, and they can produce enough food to feed quite a lot of people - but you do need to consider if they're too big for your needs and if an alternative is better.
Steamers are a great addition to a commercial kitchen. I like to steam belly pork (before roasting it at a high temperature) and likewise, halved duck carcasses - cooking them in a moist environment in a proper steamer-tray with holes allows for the fat to be "steamed" off the meat before roasting at a high temperature to crisp the skin and colour the meat.
Fish wrapped in banana leaves, or even just sitting on a parchment-lined tray works incredibly well, as do chicken breasts, scallops in the shell, even mussels and clams. If you can purchase a steamer combi-oven, one that does both steaming and dry-roasting, then the advantages are enormous.
This style of combi-oven is also brilliant for bread-bakers. Place your loaves or rolls in a steam oven at 100C for 10 minutes, before baking at 190C and you'll have much lighter bread with a good crust. Steaming fish and meat is also a very healthy way to eat and, to further enhance the dish, it's good to lay the food being cooked over herbs (thyme and rosemary, etc), spices (star anise and cinnamon work really well with savoury food) and aromatics such as ginger and lemongrass.
The steam vapour swirls the flavours around the oven and unlike in a regular oven, they aren't burnt away at high temperature. So, to answer your question, I'd suggest that if you have some cash to play with, first see if you really truly like steamed food.
If you do, consider how often you'll be using the steam oven and if it's only once or twice a month, consider a bench-top steamer to fulfil your needs. If it would, then maybe you'd be better off to invest more money in a top-of-the-range oven, hob or extraction fan and save money (and space) on the steamer. If you are going to take advantage of this healthy and versatile cooking technique, then research it fully and buy the best you can afford.
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