Minimize your learning curve by understanding the science of cooking with steam and convection ovens. Once you know how and why convection steam works — then you will replace effort with skill. Hello tribulations! Goodbye trial and error! That is why we are here, we will share our successes with you, and show you our trial and errors – so that you won’t have to.
When you have an understanding of how steam and heat works,
then you will have ongoing success with your CSO.
Here is an outline of the information below, click on each subject title to jump to that info:
1) What Convection Heat Will Do to Food
Convection heating is when heat is moved –or carried– to food and across food by these 3 ways: air, water or oil. These 3 types of fluids help transfer heat into the food. In a convection oven, dry moving air generated by a fan and a heating element is used and the result is faster cooking time (25% less time!) at a reduced temperature (25 degrees less!) …..because of these two changes:
1) At the surface:
The food’s surface will brown faster with convection heating because: any moisture on the top of the food will evaporate quickly by the hot moving air, essentially whisking it away and vaporizing it. This constant fast evaporation creates a very dry atmosphere, which allows the surface of the food to dry out, thus browning faster. Most times this is a benefit, however, in certain dishes you will want to avoid this (see examples: When not to use convection).
2) In the center:
The food’s internal temperature will increase faster with convection heating because: as the moisture on the surface of the food is whisked away, the moisture from the center is allowed to come to the surface at a faster rate.
Here’s another explanation of convection heat from Fine Cooking:
“A short version of the scientific explanation for this is that moving air speeds up the rate of heat transference that naturally occurs when air of two different temperatures converges. To help understand this, consider wind chill: When cold air blows against you on a blustery winter day, you feel colder more quickly than you do on a windless day of the same temperature.
“This acceleration effect is one reason for the superior results you get from convection. The rush of heat speeds up the chemical reactions that occur when food cooks. The butter in a pie crust or a croissant releases its steam quickly, creating flaky layers. The skin of a roasting chicken renders its fat and browns more quickly, so the meat cooks faster and stays juicier. The sugars in roasting vegetables and potatoes begin caramelizing sooner, creating crisp edges, moist interiors, and deep flavors. Overall, food cooked in a convection oven is usually done about 25% faster than it is in a conventional oven….”
a) When to use convection heat:
- when you want evenly-browned and evenly-cooked cookies, especially when filling the oven using more than one rack
- when roasting vegetables
- when cooking heavy-water content foods, such as eggplants, mushrooms and squash. The dry moving air will whisk away the excess moisture, resulting in a chewy, meaty texture.
- for crisp pastry
- when you want brown and crispy food (breakfast potatoes, roast chicken, cheese-topped dishes)
- when finishing a frittata in the oven. Generally, a frittata is cooked in an oven-proof skillet. The bottom of the frittata is cooked on the stove top and then put into a hot oven to cook the top. A convection oven is perfect to get a nicely browned top in a short amount of time.
- when toasting nuts and seeds
b) When not to use convection heat:
- when making custards and other cream-based baked goods including souffles. The dry moving air will create a dry film on the surface of the food. For success, see below: When to use convection and steam.
- using convection mode will be unproductive when air cannot move freely around the food such as in a dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, or food tightly wrapped with foil
- cakes, breads and quick breads do not do well in a convection oven. The top will dry out too quickly, causing cracks. They do better in ovens that trap moisture, such as: ordinary conduction ovens and in convection steam ovens (see Convection and Steam info, below).
2) What Steam Will Do to Food
Steaming is a ‘moist-heat’ cooking method where the food never touches the cooking liquid: it uses the mist and vapor coming from –and condensation produced by– evaporating liquid to transfer heat to the food. The mist/vapor is nearly the same temperature of boiling water (212 degrees F), and once the hot vapor makes contact with the cool food it condenses causing the surface of the food to heat. The constant wet heat on the food penetrates to the center of the food without disturbing the shape, so this works well with delicate foods such as fish and some vegetables (especially broccoli and thinly sliced veggies like carrots, potatoes).
This gentle cooking method helps retain nutrients (vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals), and flavors (naturally occurring sugars and salt), color pigments and texture (food remains moist and plump). When cooking food submerged in a liquid all these things can change, which is okay provided you don’t care about the look and texture, and that you consume the liquid as it now contains flavors and nutrients.
When cooking with steam, the steam must be allowed to build up and remain inside the cooking vessel long enough for the heat to cook the food. Types of steamers include: stainless steel basket inserts, bamboo steamers and electric food steamers.
Steam is slightly acidic causing the pigment of vegetables to deteriorate to a dull color. To avoid this, a trick that chefs use, is to salt the veggies before putting them into a steamer, and or liberally salt the cooking liquid.
A caution when steaming meats:
Here is an excerpt from “On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” by Harold McGee; Scribner; 2004; page 164.
“…it works rapidly only as long as the meat surface is cooler than the boiling point. Because heat moves through meat more slowly than steam deposits it on the surface, heat accumulates at the surface, which soon reaches the boiling point, and the heat transfer rate falls to a level just sufficient to keep the surface at the boil. Though it heats meat by means of moisture, steaming does not guarantee moist meat. Muscle fibers heated to the boiling point shrink and squeeze out much of their moisture, and the steamy atmosphere can’t replace it.”
The solution: prevent condensation directly on the surface by adding a cover or wrap to the meat. Use a thin layer of: leafy green (kale, spinach, etc), or parchment paper, or use a thick layer of sauce or dried herbs.
Cooking with steam in a Steam Oven versus on the Stove Top
First of all, steam ovens –specifically Convection Steam Ovens– make cooking with steam extremely easy and convenient because you can cook your food right on your dinner plate.
Secondly, a CSO removes the worry of “not enough water” and the guess work out of “how much water” when using a steamer basket or steamer insert. Just fill the CSO’s water reservoir and the appliance does the rest.
Third, a steam oven is gets food cooking sooner than on the stove top. In a CSO, there is a short distance (a couple of inches) and little time (about a minute) between the CSO’s water reservoir and the oven cavity. The food starts to cook immediately when the hot mist and vapor reaches the food.When steaming, you will use a lot less water (than when boiling), so, the water will come to the boiling point faster, emitting steam faster, cooking your food sooner (than when boiling). On the stove top, you would need to wait 5 minutes (or more!) for the water at the bottom of a pot to heat up. Using the same sauce pan, one cup of water approximately took 3 minutes to bring to a boil, whereas 4 cups of water took 7 minutes (source).
And – clean up is a breeze in a steam oven, no burnt or baked on mess!
a) When to use steam:
- when cooking veggies, especially broccoli and cauliflower. Carrots, potatoes and other roots steam cook faster when sliced.
- when cooking fish, ribs, ground meats, and some chicken dishes work well.
- when cooking eggs: hard cooked, soft cooked, poached and scrambled.
- hands off risotto, it cooks itself while you take care of other things.
- when you need to cook food fast and don’t have time to heat a pot of water to a boil.
- when cooking delicate foods, use steam so that they food will stay intact and not fall apart.
- when you want to preserve the highest possible nutrients in the food. Conversely, when cooking food in a liquid, much of the nutrients will be in the cooking liquid.
- when you want to avoid cooking with fat/oil to reduce calories and/or to minimize oxidative stress on the body. (Note: cooked oils have the propensity to oxidation, and the body would need to deal with that).
- when you want fast and easy clean up. If using a pot and steamer basket, there’s no need to wash with soap, just cool the remaining steaming liquid and tossed onto the lawn/landscape (we have a drought in our area). If using a steamer oven, just wipe out the inside of the oven with a dry cloth, and even this is optional because the oven can simply be left to air dry.
b) When not to use steam:
- when you want the surface of the food to brown, toast or get crispy. Steam prohibits food from drying out, so therefore the food will never brown, toast or crisp. For success, see below: When to use convection and steam.
- when you really want the taste and texture that comes from cooking with hot fat/oil. For success, see below: When to use convection and steam.
- cooking meats (specifically beef, lamb, pork) needs higher temperatures than 212 degrees F to create the umami flavors that come from searing the surface of these meats. For success, see below: When to use convection and steam.
- when cooking vegetables that hold a lot of water (such as mushrooms, squash) the steam can add too much liquid and the veggies will turn to a soggy mess. For success, see above: When to use convection heat.
3) What Convection and Steam will do to food
To recap, convection cooking uses dry hot moving air to transfer heat to food; and, steam uses moist hot air.
- When you add moisture to a convection oven: it offsets the convection’s drying effects.
- When you add hot moving air to a steam oven: it offers browning and crisping capabilities.
In a “combi oven” –a term used for the combination of convection and steam– the heat source is both a hot chamber and hot moisture that is amplified by moving air. This combination creates an environment for quick, fast cooking; producing good-looking evenly-cooked foods (no hot or cold spots). Plus, “the hotter the air the more water it can hold…” (Modernist Cuisine; 2011, by The Cooking Lab; Vol 2 – Techniques and Equipment; page 154).
In a Cuisinart CSO, the settings include:
- Toast (So, toss out your counter-top toaster to make room from this dream machine!)
- Convection Bake and Bake Steam
- Broil and Broil Steam
- Steam and Super Steam
- Bread (this preset includes a proofing stage)
Each of these settings are explained here in the Cuisinart CSO manual on page 5 including: default time and temperature, and the temperature range for each setting.
a) When to use convection and steam:
- for proofing and baking; for thawing and holding; for roasting and oven frying; for steaming and poaching
- when you want brown, toast or crispy moist food – such as chicken (and meats), veggies such as breakfast potatoes. xxxxx Steam prohibits food from drying out, so therefore the food will never brown, toast or crisp.
- when you really want the taste and texture that comes from cooking with hot fat/oil. For success, put a thin layer of fat/oil on the food, and cook the food with steam first and end with convection bake.
- when cooking meats in the Cuisinart CSO (specifically beef, lamb, pork) use the Broil Steam mode to get the meat surface hot in order to create the umami flavors that come from searing the surface of these meats. The addition of the steam will prevent the surface from drying out too much, and will cook the veggies that are also on the same dinner plate.
- Bread makers love the Convection Steam Ovens. They know that humidity plays an important role for a crusty shell and soft lofty center. The baker knows that CSOs have evenly-distributed just-right weather conditions for a prize-winning loaf of bread.
- cakes and quick breads do really well in a Convection Steam Oven, too. The cake tops and muffin tops will remain moist allowing for more rise without causing cracks.
b) When not to use convection and steam:
- when you don’t have a convection steam oven.