By: Vivienne Pearson
Some concepts are so simple that they take ages to get your head around. Retained-heat cooking is like that for me.
Retained-heat cooking uses heat generated by initial cooking to finish the process without adding any further fuel. Take a stew, for example. The first steps are as expected – meat and veges are prepared and brought to the boil. The stew is a long way from being fully cooked, but it is hot. This is when things get interesting. The pot is taken off the heat, moved to an insulated container and left there, untouched. Over the first few hours, the stew will continue to actually cook. From there, the temperature will fall but stay high enough for the stew to be served at a perfect eating temperature whenever it suits you.
Once you get your head around this concept, the potential benefits start to dawn.
Using less energy is the obvious one, with consequent benefits to the hip pocket as well as the environment. Less liquid is used in cooking and there is no risk of drying out or burning (great when it comes to dishes time). Most insulated containers are portable, meaning that food can be transported warm – great for catering outside the home or for day trips (apparently ‘grey nomads’ are well in the know about this benefit).
What stretches my mind more is the effect this type of cooking can have on time. Saving time is one thing – during the retained-heat process, you do not need to stir or even check on the food (in fact, you can’t, as valuable heat is lost every time you do). But another time benefit is flexibility – imagine an afternoon at the beach knowing that tea will be ready regardless of whether you come home at 6pm or 9pm? This flexibility would be ideal for families who need to eat at different times, or parents for whom cooking during the ‘witching hour’ can be a daily nightmare.
Why haven’t most of us heard of retained-heat cooking – also known as insulated cooking, fireless cooking, hotbox, wonderbox and haybox cooking?
The times that it has been in the public eye have been when necessity has been the mother of invention. During the second world war, the UK government published flyers advocating this style of cooking, and when South Africa’s decaying infrastructure resulted in daily power outages, radio put out urgent calls for ‘anyone who knows about that old-fashioned way of cooking’.
Maybe we simply don’t have a pressing need to make a change. Maybe retained-heat cooking requires more forethought than suits our I-want-it-now mindset. Maybe it doesn’t fit with our love of fried foods. Maybe we’ve got so used to being chained to our kitchen in the lead up to a meal that we can’t imagine another way.
Or maybe, in a world where we like complex, shiny, expensive gadgets (I’m looking at you, Thermomix), retained-heat cooking is simply too simple.
Facebook/EcoCooka. Retained-heat cooking class, Sat 12 November, Byron Community College (phone 6680 3374)