How to use steam in the Anova Precision® Oven
The Anova Precision® Oven is a home combi oven. The world’s best chefs have used combi ovens in their restaurant kitchens for years, but these devices have been extremely expensive and only available for commercial use…until now.
A traditional oven lets you control temperature (usually, not very well). But a combi oven gives you control of both temperature and humidity. It’s this combination that gives chefs – and now, anyone – precise, predictable, and powerful control of the way your food cooks.
In North America, in particular, when we hear “steam,” we think of steaming broccoli on the stovetop. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Food is mostly water. When you put your food in a traditional oven, it’s cooking in a hot, dry environment. The water in the food gets driven off, carrying flavor away with it, and leaving your food dry. But air can only hold so much water. If we saturate the air with humidity by generating steam, the water content of your food has nowhere to go. It stays put, keeping your vegetables vibrant and your meats juicy.
It’s important to note that steam doesn’t just mean “steam.” The Anova Precision Oven lets you control the level of steam or humidity independently from temperature. On a stovetop steamer, you get one setting: full steam at 212°F / 100°C. But with the Precision® Oven, you can add as little or as much humidity as you like over the full temperature range of the oven. Just like sous vide is not the same as boil-in-a-bag, cooking with steam is not the same as stovetop steaming.
- Home ovens are notoriously imprecise, partially because their thermostats were designed before the sous-vide era, and partially because dry air is such a bad conductor of heat. For every Watt of energy the oven pumps into its heating elements, there’s a long time delay before that heat reaches the food.
- Imagine trying to drive 60 miles per hour, but with a 10 second delay applied to the gas pedal and brakes. It would be really hard to maintain an accurate speed. This is the challenge your oven thermostat faces: its control knob is writing checks that its heaters can’t cash.
- Steam is a much better conductor of heat. Combined with heating algorithms written in the age of endless computing power, we can maintain temperature with levels of precision that would make your old-school oven blush.
Foods can’t dry out
- In sous vide cooking, foods can’t dry out because there’s nowhere for the water to go. A sealed oven full of humid air is just like a sous vide bag: foods can’t dry out because there’s nowhere for the water to go!
- Dry air is a poor conductor of heat. That’s why you can reach into a 300 degree oven with your bare hand unscathed. But an oven that’s saturated with steam transfers heat much faster. (Don’t try that.)
When to Add Steam and Why?
Veggies and Meat
- Cooking green vegetables to be vibrant in color and flavor
- Cooking starchy vegetables to core doneness, like potatoes and root vegetables. If the air in the oven is saturated, water in the food can’t escape, so water-soluble flavors and nutrients stay put
- Cooking skinless meat, poultry, and fish to core doneness. If the air in the oven is saturated, water in the food can’t escape, so proteins stay juicier
- In proofing stages, high humidity prevents the outside of the dough from drying out
- In the first stage of baking, steam helps prevent a crust from forming too early, helping the bread reach maximum volume
- Steam helps deliver heat to the bread more quickly than dry air
- Steam also helps gelatinize the starch in bread, which forms a glossy crust by the end of baking
Eggs, such as omelettes, and egg-set dishes such as custard, flan, creme brulee
- Full or partial steam helps evenly and gently heat egg-based dishes, similar to using a bain marie in traditional cooking
- Higher water saturation of the air in the oven discourages water from evaporating away from the eggs, which would leave them brittle
- A full steam 212°F/100°C environment, along with some liquid water in contact with the food, replicates the effects of stovetop boiling
When NOT to Add Steam and Why?Crisping, browning, or “air frying”
- Wet foods don’t brown. So, if you’re trying to sear or caramelize the outside of your food with high heat, water is your enemy. Keep the food and the oven as dry as possible for the best and most efficient results.
- Steaming the skin as the poultry cooks will allow it to absorb moisture. This makes the skin harder to crisp in later stages and can result in a rubbery texture
- Most baking is about driving moisture out of your baked goods, so you want a dry environment ready to receive moisture from the food. Steam will inhibit browning, as well, so your cookies may end up more blonde and less toasted than with dry baking. Depending on the specific recipe, this may or may not be desirable. So, some exceptions certainly exist for this rule. But for the majority of traditional baking, steam does not add anything exceptional and may be detrimental.
- You’re trying to drive water out of your food, so steam will only slow that process down. You may want to do a steam blast before dehydrating to kill off surface bacteria, but during the actual drying process, you should disable steam (and even keep the oven door cracked so moisture can escape more easily)