Saturday, April 14, 2007

Saving Energy, Saving Money, Safer Cooking, Cooler Kitchen, ... Fireless Cooking

Posted by olvlzl.
Energy conservation isn’t something you will hear George Bush mention very often, never mind Dick Cheney. Saving money as you save the environment holds no percentage for the oil industry, so conservation is generally unmentionable or it is presented as pie-in-the-sky. But with a little information and a small amount of effort you can get some benefit from the practical research that has already been done about energy conservation.

Fireless cooking is a way to save up to 70% of energy used in cooking. It also requires less attention and for many foods it yields better results. The Aprovech center’s research has shown that no matter what kind of stove is being used to cook, the greatest energy savings are achieved through using this kind of cooking based on holding in the heat for the cooking time.

Having tried it for a couple of years, it is simple and makes life a lot easier. In the coming warm weather, it also cuts down standing over a hot stove and having hot pots heat up the kitchen. Depending on what kind of insulation you use, adopting the method can be just about cost free*.
What the technique involves is cooking food over heat for a short time, covering the pot and putting it in an insulated container or blanket sufficient to keep the heat in to cook the food. I use it for rice and all kinds of beans all the time now.

To cook rice this way:
About an hour before you would normally begin cooking rice you put it in a pot with about 1/3rd less water than you would usually use. You boil the rice for three minutes, turn off the stove and let it boil another minute or two. Then cover it, enclose the covered pot in some kind of clean, well fitting insulation and let it continue to cook for an hour to an hour and a half. If you have done it right the rice will be cooked, won't have stuck to the pot and won't have burned. Larger amounts of food cooked this way work better than smaller amounts but if well insulated you can cook even a cup of rice this way.

Beans need from two minute (lentils) to five minutes (kidney or garbanzos) boil times and from a couple to four hours enclosed in insulation. I wouldn’t make polenta if I couldn’t make it this way, one minute cooking and stirring while splattered with boiling mush instead of 45. With polenta it is especially important to use a third less water than your normal recipe or you get gruel. It takes an hour to an hour and a half for it to cook polenta with this method.

The insulation that is easiest to use is a clean, double or triple layer of synthetic blanket, completely enclosing the pot. I usually put a piece of cardboard under the pot as added insulation. A woolen or cotton blanket or towel of sufficient thickness will work too as long as it's dry. Putting the blanket in a box adds to its insulating efficiency.

Aprovecho Research has a tri-fold brochure giving full instructions for cooking many foods and for using different types of insulation. I can say without doubt the dollar I spent on it was the best dollar I’ve spent in decades. You can check out their other interesting and practical energy savings booklets too.

* Since I first posted a version of this last year I’ve been experimenting with cardboard boxes reinforced with aluminum foil covered cardboard and old towels to make “hay boxes”. Using old boxes and used aluminum foil, I still haven’t spent a cent since buying Aprovecho’s dollar folder on the subject. It saved the cost of replacing a pressure cooker.