Updated: Jan 6
Twenty-two years ago when I joined the appliance industry one of the first appliances I was trained on was a brand new oven from Gaggenau, the combination Convection-Steam Oven. While the versatility of the oven functions made sense to me, I have to admit that I had to go through a learning curve to understand how to adapt my cooking to use the oven on a daily basis.
I learned a great deal just by cooking in the oven, and I learned even more from the clients I worked with who came to me with their questions, success stories, and of course failures, something we all experienced. So we all tried different things and learned together.
What is the Origin of a Steam Oven
Convection Steam ovens originated in professional kitchens where the versatility of the various functions made them invaluable for producing precise results. It wasn’t long before clients of fine dining restaurants began to understand that the superb texture and flavor of the foods they were enjoying were a result of being cooked in this remarkable combination of Convection and Steam and, of course, they needed one for their own homes.
Gaggenau, a manufacturer of luxury appliances based on professional cooking principles, created the first Combination Convection Steam oven for the residential market in 1999 and that began the love affair. Ten years later by the mid-2000s most premium appliance manufacturers featured a Steam oven in their line.
Why is Steam Cooking Better
Steam inhibits the cellular breakdown of foods, so foods cooked in steam have better flavor, texture, and nutrient retention. Foods cooked in Convection also have better moisture retention so when the two are combined the results are outstanding.
Another benefit of cooking with steam and convection is that there is no transfer of flavor, so multiple foods can be cooked at one time.
Why Does the Steam Oven Have so Many Cooking Options
The array of cooking options in a Steam oven is truly remarkable. There are multiple cooking options because the temperature and steam can be combined in different ratios tailored to different types of cooking. Steaming for example uses a low temperature of 212 degrees plus full steam.
Roasting and baking require less steam and use a higher temperature. Specialty functions such as low-temperature cooking, sous vide, dough proofing, and defrosting use higher levels of steam but a very low temperature, each mode is tailored to a specific type of cooking.
This is what is so brilliant about the Steam oven, the chefs and engineers who designed the oven understood the different levels of heat and steam needed for different cooking applications, after all, transforming uncooked food into cooked food is a science.
Many Steam ovens also feature a broiling function for browning and crisping but one of the most popular functions in a Steam oven is the re-heating function. This function offers a healthier alternative than the microwave for reheating and has no drying effect on the food. The gentle steam literally brings the food back to life!
What is the Best Way to Use a Steam Oven
Here are a few ways I like to use my Steam Oven.
Steaming - grains, oatmeal, hard boil eggs, poached eggs, shellfish, vegetables
cooking custards without a water bath, poaching fish, steaming bone-in chicken, and canning.
Braising - baby back ribs, short ribs, pot roast, lamb shanks.
Roasting - chicken, fish, turkey, and vegetables, and cooking multiple dishes at one time.
Baking - puff pastry, frittatas, cakes, bread, pastries, muffins, and bread pudding.
Low- Temperature Cooking - for the slow cooking of tender cuts of meat such as beef filet, prime rib, fish, pork tenderloin, turkey, and chicken. The finishing is done at high heat on the grill, cooktop, or oven.
Dough Proofing - the best way to proof yeast pastry
Defrosting - ice crystals in the food dissolve but the food is not cooked.
Re-heating - with this option every meal tastes freshly cooked.
In the early days of working with the Steam oven clients always asked, if there was a cookbook to guide them in using the oven. While it’s always nice to learn what other people are doing you don’t really need special recipes for cooking in the Steam oven. You can still cook the same foods you have always cooked but just in a different manner.
I love the Steam function for being able to steam multiple foods at one time, rather than monitor multiple pans on the cooktop. I just have to set the Timer to keep track of the cooking time but I never have to worry about a pan boiling over and, the cooking containers go straight in the dishwasher for easy clean-up.
Since the oven uses water it is important to keep it dry between uses, especially if you go away for a few weeks at a time. If your oven has a tank to hold the water, it’s best emptied after each use.
Descaling to avoid limescale build-up is also very important and since not all ovens feature a self-cleaning function some elbow grease may be required. Be sure to read the oven User Guide for the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning and descaling.
I always advise clients who are new to Steam oven cooking to keep a notebook and make notes about what they cooked so they can fine-tune their cooking and eventually cooking in the Steam oven will become second nature.
Stay tuned for my next post which covers Re-heating and Defrosting in the Steam Oven in more detail.
In the meantime visit the Steam Recipes section on my website for inspiration on cooking a variety of foods using the different modes in your Convection Steam oven.