Induction Hob – Cooking perfection for spoonies…

See also this post http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/induction-hob-update-important/

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Today I’m using my new induction hob for the first time, to make a chilli  – look, DWP snoops, can we take my usual disclaimer as read? Thank you so much! – so a few tips:-

For sweating off onions and other veggies, use the Power control, on No. 1. Put the pan on the hob, add oil or whatever, and the chopped onions plus anything else you have – THEN turn it on and set the heat level. Not before. This works perfectly, but possibly goes a lot faster than you might be used to – sure as hell faster than my cooker! Does a good job, though – just don’t forget to stir.

I need to spend the minimum amount of time on my feet, and by this stage I’ve  already done all the prep work, so anything that speeds up the more labour-intensive parts of the cooking process is very welcome.

For browning meat, switch to the Temperature control, 200C. As ever, don’t overload the pan or it will stew in its own juices. This is very fast, so if you want to go at a slower pace, turn it down to 120 or 100.

Boiling is obvious, 100C (though you can turn it up to the max (240C), for about 30 seconds if you’re in a hurry – just don’t go away and leave it!). Or you can stay on Power, turn it up to 5 or 8 to bring it to the boil (again, it’s faster than a cooker), then down to 2 until the contents are all thoroughly hot and ready to simmer.

Simmering; switch the temperature 80C , which will simmer nice and gently, which is what I want – cheap cuts of meat cooked long and slow taste way better than expensive cuts.

I was a bit peeved at first, when I turned it down from boil to 80, to simmer, and nothing happened. Well, doh! – of course not – I had to wait for it to drop 20 – 30 degrees before it kicked in at 80.

This, of course, is slow-cooker temperature, without the heavy earthenware pot to contend with, and it works too (been checking it occasionally, and the carrots and swede are cooking nicely, albeit slowly but, since it’s costing little, I don’t care).

Things to bear in mind:-

Using an induction hob, only the food is heated. When sweating off veg, or browning meat (this does not seal the meat, that’s a crock, but the Maillard reaction adds flavour), the pan will only slowly heat up through conduction, so the risk of burning yourself while doing this is minimal. The hob stays cool, too, so, unlike a stove, the effect on the kitchen environment is minimal, though unlike the pan, the hob doesn’t heat up, except under the pan.

Pans for induction hobs have smoothly polished bottoms. That, on a glass hob, is slippery, so always hold the handle when stirring.

If you’re the sort of person who shakes a pan rather than stirring it (just because sleb chefs do it, it doesn’t mean you should – it won’t stop stuff sticking!), I suggest you get into the habit of stirring, that way you won’t scratch the glass hob. And you’ll get better results. The best tool for that, by the way, is NOT a wooden spoon, but an Oriental rice paddle (sometimes called rice spoons), and available anywhere that sells Japanese or Chinese ingredients. If you need links, post a comment.

The difference between Power and Temperature settings:-

Power is an absolute. You set it to 2, and it will pump that out until you turn it up, down, or off. For example, setting 1 initially looks as if it’s simmering, but it just keeps gets hotter and, 10 minutes later, it’ll be boiling the bejesus out of it.

Temperature is a variable power user, and thus the more economical. Set it at, say, 80 and it will maintain the contents at 80C, by increasing or decreasing the power as needed, again, until you turn it up, down, or off.

With a slow cooker, I found that covering the lid with a towel meant a more even temperature within. I think this will be the case here, too.** There’s no danger of the towel catching fire – the hob is cold.

**Might be false logic, as it won’t get any hotter than 80 anyway, though it will prevent it being chilled by draughts.

Conclusion:-

A brilliant tool for a spoonie, as you can put it wherever you like, at a height to suit you. And it’s fast – except for simmering. Or, looking on the plus side, no need to have a slow cooker too.

A good buy, especially as electricity prices are going up and induction hobs are supposed to be economical to run. Given the way it behaves in use I believe that, as its entire output is concentrated on the food, so no heat is wasted. OK, there’s always some lost by conduction and convection – you can’t beat the laws of physics – but it’s minimal and is, in effect, surplus heat, as it’s already been used to cook the food.

An induction hob, in use, is the closest you can get to cooking with gas while using electricity, with a downside – it doesn’t have a conventional simmer setting.  So, it’s good for soups and stews, where the early cooking stages are greatly speeded up, but simmering is way slow, slow cooker standard, as I said, and will take hours. That’s disappointing in some ways. In others, now I’ve used it successfully, I don’t care, it’s great.

In other news:-

I get through quite a lot of olive oil. It goes in my bread, I cook with it (there’s nothing better than butter and olive oil for frying fish), and I get through even more just sloshing it in a dish, with balsamic vinegar and a pinch of Maldon sea salt, and dunking bread in it. Plus I drink it occasionally.

Normally, I buy Sainsbury’s own brand extra virgin – it’s the best of the supermarket brands that I’ve found (yes, I have tried them all, over the years, and Carbonell is possibly better, but hard to find). Sainsbury’s is a little grassy and quite peppery, and I’ve paid a hell of a lot more for much worse. I have no doubt at all the there are many oils that are vastly superior, but that’s pointless if I can’t afford them.

So I thought I’d try moving a tad upmarket, and I bought a Spanish Manzanilla Extra Virgin oil. At almost exactly twice the price of Sainsbury’s I expected it to at least get close to its description of  “a smooth, intensely fruity flavour,”  but, alas, it did not (and it’s not been degraded by light in storage, as it’s in a can).

It’s smooth, OK, but about as limp-wristedly unassertive as Nick Clegg in a cabinet meeting. It is, in a word, dull.

So, lesson learned, and in future I’ll stick with what I know and like. It’ll get used, but only for cooking.

More successful was an apple balsamic vinegar, from Aspall. I’ve used their cider vinegar for years, for everything from pickled eggs to a bread additive to inhibit mould (better than the industrial crap that goes into commercial bread), and of late I’ve become rather fond of their ciders (until a couple of weeks ago when I completely lost my taste for booze).

I was quite disappointed, when I received it, to discover that it wasn’t traditionally made, it’s just cider vinegar mixed with reduced apple “must” (i.e. juice, either fermented or not, it doesn’t say). Which makes me wonder, since it doesn’t go through the process of maturation and evaporation in wooden casks, can it truly be called balsamic? Mind you, I’ve no idea how much of the Italian balsamic vinegar I buy is made the same way as Aspall…

The important thing, though, is how it tastes, and it tastes wonderful. It has a distinct toffee-apple smell and, to a lesser degree, taste and, while suitably acidic (5%), it’s as smooth as silk – I’ve had wines that were rougher! It is, as I proved to myself, actually drinkable, a tad sweet and quite complex, though the toffee apple taste – the result of boiling down the must, presumably – is dominant.

For dunking bread, along with olive oil, it’s excellent, but I tend to marinate canned, boneless, sardines (John West), in conventional balsamic, before filling rolls with them (it’s quite wasteful as it subsequently gets thrown away, so something cheap is fine), and I have a feeling the sweetness would jar somewhat, especially as the stuff I normally use adds a sweet note to the fish while not being noticeably sweet itself. Still, I didn’t buy it for that, I bought it for dunking!

As regular readers will know, I’ve been having massive problems with green split peas (the buggers just won’t cook). Normally I buy Sainsbury’s, which are labelled “Product of more than one country” which makes it impossible to find out what the problem is (it seems to be widespread, based on feedback – what little there’s been).

Anyway, I decided to give them one last try, and bought 500g of organic ones, from Canada (which, if they won’t cook, at least gives me an avenue of enquiry to try to find out why. The peas in this batch are perceptibly smaller than those from Sainsbury’s, which makes me wonder if theirs have simply been harvested too late..

Whatever happens, I’ll post it on here.

Finally, I love cheese, but shopping at Tesco has proven to be a major disappointment. Aside from an absolutely ludicrous variety of Cheddars, they seem to pay little attention to the quality of the cheeses they offer, and most are an exercise in mediocrity. There’s one, however, which stands head and shoulder above the rest – their own-brand Lancashire, crumbly, sharp, and very tasty, the way it should be and so very rarely is. So good, in fact, one night, recently, when I couldn’t sleep, I polished off 250g of the stuff.

A caveat: cheese changes with the seasons, or it should, with proper animal husbandry and cheese-making skills** – that might have been some of the last of the summer cheese. However, I’ve just ordered more, so we’ll see on Tuesday.

**Cheese that remains the same all year round is almost certainly a product of factory farming, or imported from the southern hemisphere during our Winter/Spring.

And now, while I can still stand, I have to adjourn to the kitchen, to make a beef stew which might, if I have the energy, metamorphose into a chilli (finely-cut braising steak makes a better chilli than mince, with its freight of mystery meat, snout, ears and assorted other bits that you’re better off not knowing about. I should have done this yesterday, but I was totally wiped out, both physically and, as a result, emotionally, and managed nothing but a short blog post.

Afterword: Today was the first proper spoonie-normal day since my recent illness, and I was dismayed to find that I was still profoundly weak – so much so that it was actually frightening. Not a happy bunny… Pretty sure I’m screwed.

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