28th Feb 2008

Cookers

Rayburn Cookers

Rayburn cookers are built from cast iron with an enamel coating and they can be fuelled by gas, kerosene, diesel oil or solid fuel. Features include a cast iron main oven (with a temperature gauge) and a second oven with a temperature set at half that of the main oven. The larger models also have a warming oven. There is a single, large, rectangular hotplate with temperature variation from boiling to simmering and insulated hotplate covers. This may sound similar to an Aga and in many ways that’s the case.

There are significant differences, however. Whereas Aga cookers are thermostatically temperature controlled, Rayburn’s can be controlled manually or electronically. You can vary the temperature of the hotplate and main oven to suit. You can also choose to switch the cooker off when it’s not in use, much like a standard cooker. The most significant feature of a Rayburn is that you can choose either a ‘cooking-only’ appliance or a cooker which also provides domestic water and central heating. These models have separate burners which let you run two functions (cooking and domestic heating) independently of each other.

Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers are a type of specialised cookware with a locking lid. Intense steam heat is generated inside the pot which cooks food in a much shorter period of time than in conventional saucepans or cookware. Steam conducts heat more efficiently than air and under increased pressure, food cooks without drying out. They are excellent for all kinds of foods, especially stews, vegetables, bean dishes and soups.

Pressure cookers are generally made of aluminium and have a non-stick lining. The features available can include browning or steaming functions, delayed cooking time, a keep warm facility and digital timers. You should probably consider a model with heat-resistant handles and a thick stainless steel base so that you can use the same pot to sauté vegetables or brown cuts of meat prior to cooking. Pressure cookers are available with multiple pressure settings allowing you to adjust the steam pressure as necessary. The higher the steam pressure, the higher the temperature inside the cooker and so the less cooking time you’ll need.

Slow Cookers

Slow cookers (also known as crock pots) are electric cookers which cook food slowly at a low temperature (generally between 170 degrees F/80 degrees C and 280 degrees F/140 degrees C). Slow cookers are excellent for cooking less expensive cuts of beef and lamb. The long cooking process tenderises the meat and allows it to absorb the flavours of the other ingredients (vegetables, stocks, wine or spices). The length of cooking time also means that if, for example, you are going to be out for most of the day, you can prepare a meal which will be ready to eat by the time you get home. Many dishes cooked in a slow cooker are also suitable to freeze, so you can do lots of cooking in advance when you have time. Combined with microwave cooking, for defrosting and heating for example, this can be very useful when you find yourself in a hurry during the week.

Some of the standard features available include stainless steel construction, a removable ceramic internal cooking pot, a minimum of 2 heat settings, toughened glass lids and cool-touch handles.

Rice Cookers

Rice cookers are simple to use and very convenient if you cook rice on a regular basis. There is a very wide range of rice cookers available, from the most basic models where it’s a simple matter of measuring out your rice and water and setting the unit to cook to more sophisticated models featuring computerised programming for different types of rice (white, brown and wild) as well as other dishes like porridge.

Other useful features which you might like to consider include cool-touch exteriors and handles as well as non-stick interiors. A keep warm function and separate steamer baskets which allow you to cook vegetables and rice at the same time.

Solar Cookers

Solar cookers use energy from the sun to cook food in much the same way as solar energy panels are used to store energy which can then be used to heat homes or swimming pools. There are three basic types of solar cookers – box cookers (which generally use a single flat reflective panel and are the most ‘oven-like’ in appearance), multiple panel cookers (which use several panels to direct the sun’s rays into the cooking chamber) and parabolic cookers (which use reflective disks to concentrate sunlight at a cooking pot).

An advantage of solar cookers is that they can be made of all sorts of materials including adobe for a more permanent cooker. However, you could just as easily make a solar cooker from a cardboard box lined with aluminium foil. The maximum temperatures (around 150C/300F) reached in solar cookers aren’t nearly as high as for conventional cookers but are adequate for most types of basic cooking. A major disadvantage of solar cookers is that (especially if a dish requires a long period of cooking), the cooker needs to be turned to follow the sun, in order to keep the cooking temperature even.

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