Steam ovens are used by bakeries and restaurants because of the quality of cooked foods and the dramatically reduced cooking time. Quicker cooking results in less energy being used and lower utility bills. Bear in mind that the initial price of a steam oven, whether it is built-in or freestanding, is considerably greater than a standard oven.
Though few people are familiar with steam ovens, many have used a small electric countertop steamer for vegetables and rice. The food cooks quickly and retains more of the natural flavors and nutrients than other methods.
Steam ovens have become more popular for home use within the past several years. Built-in models look similar to a conventional wall oven. Most models have a water reservoir (typically 1.25 quarts), so they do not require a water line connection. Fill the reservoir each time you use the oven.
Don’t buy a professional steam oven, which may be slightly less expensive but often lacks safety features required for home use. Play it safe and get an oven designed for home use approved by Underwriters Laboratories.
Quick cooking with steam
Food cooks much faster in a steam oven because steam has a higher heat content and heat transfer rate than hot air. Water normally boils at 212° and becomes steam. Some steam ovens can produce superheated steam as hot as 500°. When this steam reaches the desired temperature and is released, it hits the food surface, transferring heat to the cold food.
Superheated steam also heats the fat in meat quickly without searing the outside surface. This liquefies fat almost instantly—much of it drips into a pan, resulting in lower-fat meat, and steam keeps meat moist and tender. Cooking a large chicken in a steam oven takes about 20 minutes, instead of two hours in a conventional oven.
For more versatility, combination steam/convection ovens can cook even faster. Steam ovens do not brown meats, so the convection portion of the oven can be used for that task. For breads, the moisture inside the steam oven makes much better crusts and provides more even baking.
Steam cooking from a menu
Because steam cooking at home is relatively new, most people don’t know how to cook with it. Most new steam ovens have a menu of foods from which you select in the computer memory.
The oven determines the proper cooking time and settings for each food. Some ovens have hundreds of food items stored in memory, and you can select combinations.