These days, we could all do with more time, money and energy. Well, there is a way you can get more of all three just by changing the way in which you cook. Does it sound too good to be true? Unlike many quick (quack) fixes that promise the world, this one can actually make a difference to your life and the nice thing is that it doesn’t require a major change in lifestyle, just a change in appliance.
It’s no secret that your oven uses a lot of energy – and it’s not exactly a super-quick option if you’re in a hurry. Halogen ovens (also convection ovens) are an energy-efficient alternative that also slice huge chunks off your cooking time. They’re relatively big in the US and they’re growing in popularity in the UK (thanks to some celebrity chef endorsements), but they haven’t quite taken off in South Africa yet. This is a pity because if ever consumers needed to save money and put the planet (as well as their health) first, it’s us.
According to Wikipedia, halogen ovens use a halogen lamp (infrared heat) as the heating element, which makes them more energy-efficient and which drastically cuts cooking time. It also allows for healthier food preparation. Additional benefits include their size (they’re about as big as a slow cooker or a really big pot, so they’re significantly smaller than conventional ovens). Their size also makes them portable – you can plug them in anywhere with a flat surface and a power supply. They’re also affordable, especially in comparison to a conventional oven. Depending on the brand and where you buy it, halogen ovens cost between R500 and R900. This is comparable to other cooking appliances, such as slow cookers, pressure cookers and steamers.
The ovens are clear glass (so you can see the cooking happen) and consist of the heating element and a heating chamber, which can contain multi-level racks so you can cook at different heights. The heat generated by the infrared light is circulated evenly throughout the chamber through convective heat transfer, which is just about the safest way to cook food.
You can use a halogen oven for exactly the same things as a conventional oven, including grilling and roasting meat, fish and vegetables and baking pastries, breads and desserts.
The advantages of halogen ovens
- Shorter cooking time is a major advantage. Halogen ovens get hot almost immediately (no pre-heating for 15 – 20 minutes) and the heat is very efficiently and evenly distributed, which reduces cooking time by up to 60% (count on a 40% reduction as a reasonable average).
- Energy-efficiency is also a major plus. They use approximately half the electricity of conventional ovens, which puts them on more or less equal footing with microwave ovens.
- Portability is convenient. It’s not as important as saving time or money, but being able to move from one room (or one location) to another, quickly and easily is certainly handy.
- Size does matter, especially when space is an issue. If you simply don’t have room for an oven, then halogen ovens are brilliant. All you need is some clear counter space. The relatively small size also means that they are ideal for cooking small meals for small families or couples living together.
- They’re safe. According to UK celebrity chef and food writer Richard Ehrlich, halogen ovens have a built-in safety mechanism. They switch off as soon as the handle is lifted and the lid is taken off. Flames are also never a risk – the cooking method simply doesn’t allow for it.
- They’re relatively easy to clean. You need to be careful around the element but a soapy brush tends to take care of most grease and a wipe takes care of the rest. Even if dirt proves stubborn, however, it’s easier than being on your hands and knees chest deep in a conventional oven.
It’s difficult to believe but is at least one disadvantage to halogen ovens:
- Size – the limited space means that you won’t be cooking meals for more than, say eight people at a time. Ehrlich says that you can cook comfortable for six people at a time. After that, things get a bit tricky. But, considering the shortened cooking time, doubling up on dishes isn’t a problem. You can cook two roasts in about the same time it would take to cook one in a conventional oven – so there are ways around the problem.
Halogen ovens aren’t going to revolutionise cooking, but they could give you the extra twenty minutes in the evening you need to meditate, read a novel, relax in a bath or play with your kids. While the savings on your electricity bill might not be big enough for you to afford that dream holiday in Tahiti, the difference will still be tangible, especially if your ends are struggling to meet every month. Plus, we can all do more to save the planet. Halogen ovens allow us increase our eco-responsibility in a way that is delicious and nutritious.
Image credit: Sandy Austin, CC BY-NC 2.0, Via Flickr