It’s not that Europeans haven’t told us about thermal cooking. After all, they’ve been using this method of energy efficient cooking for centuries, in the form of homemade hay box cookers (in which hot pots were started on a stove, then tucked into straw-lined boxes, and left to cook using only retained ambient heat). Now, with global warming and fuel costs out of control, it’s an idea worth revisiting. And with Kuhn Rikon’s colorful new Hotpan Cook & Serve Sets, embracing the concept just got easier.
Here’s the hip, modern Kuhn Rikon Hotpan version of hay box cookery: Cook food on the stove in a high-end, stainless steel pan with insulated, convex lid (the lid’s shape helps baste the food). Then, before the food is done, remove the pan from the stove, place it in a brightly colored insulated shell to create a double wall of insulation, and let it passively cook, without added fuel, until done. With such gentle cooking, the food remains hot for up to two hours and will never burn or dry out. Plus, actual cooking time on the stove is scaled back.
In fact, Hotpan thermal cooking uses 70% less cooking energy than traditional stovetop methods. For example, simmer brown rice on the stovetop for 10 minutes, then transfer the pot to the thermal shell for 30 minutes. Simmer polenta for 1 minute, then let it passively cook for 20 minutes.
The Hotpan Cook & Serve Sets come in various sizes, from 1- to 4-quart, and in colors pretty enough to serve at table. (The 3-liter is probably the most versatile, if you pick only one size.) The outer shell isn’t a one-trick pony either: when not hosting the Hotpan, it works as a salad bowl or serving bowl, and it keeps breads warm or ice cream cold. You can also buy the shells separately (in orange, black, red, blue, and white), and the sizes nest inside each other for compact storage.
Kuhn Rikon, the same Swiss company behind the Hotpan Cook & Serve Sets, is a leader in energy efficient pressure cookers. Two of their most versatile, quick-cooking products are the Duromatic Pressure Fry Pan and the Pressure Braiser.
I prefer the braiser, because it’s essentially the same pan as the skillet but instead of a long handle, the braiser has two short handles making it more compact for storage. Both are extremely fuel efficient and can replace oven cooking in many instances. At 2-1/2 quarts, they’re the ideal size for smaller recipes and side dishes, and especially handy for couples, small families, and empty nesters. You can use them as a regular skillet, or cook under pressure. The waffle-texture base lets you brown in little or no fat. After browning, you can finish thick chops, small roasts, and chunky chicken pieces by locking on the lid and cooking under pressure.
Another bonus: Pressure cooked vegetables retain more nutrients than cooking by other methods. Weeknight rescue dishes are especially easy. I often make risotto in minutes, without all that pesky stirring at the stovetop; or brown a pork tenderloin, then pressure-braise until perfectly pale pink in the center. If you’re considering replacing a worn out skillet, the Kuhn Rikon Pressure Braiser or Fry Pan make more sense. They’re more versatile, save fuel, and though they come with a ten year warranty, I have a feeling these babies will probably last a lifetime. (By the way, this is not the same thing as a pressurized fryer, the kind used in fried chicken restaurants.)