Cooking with steam is trendy—and with good reason. But cooking with steam is also nothing new. Aztecs used to take tamales (cooked with steam!) into battle with them. Steamed buns have been making the world a better place since Homer was just taking a stab at writing The Odyssey. Momos, a type of steamed dumpling originally from Tibet, are a longtime staple all over Asia and continue to conquer hearts and stomachs to this day.
Basically, steam is awesome and always has been, but cooking with steam along with other cooking methods is worth a whole blog post because this is the ideal cooking combo. And it’s never been more accessible, thanks to steam ovens.
Generally speaking, a steam oven is an oven that uses both wet and dry cooking methods. It can steam, convection bake, and broil, and in many cases you can set it to use these different methods in sequence.
The oven you have in your kitchen—while wonderful—can probably only cook with “dry heat” (a.k.a., it can only bake or broil). Until just recently, steam ovens have been a tool exclusive to professional chefs and getting one in your home would cost you anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
Steam steps up your cooking game. The water molecules that make up steam conduct heat better than air, cooking your food more quickly. It’s why a humid 90-degree day feels hotter than a 90-degree day without humidity.
In a combi oven, baking while simultaneously adding steam to the oven chamber creates “wet heat” that results in a humid environment that prevents moisture from escaping from your food.
Steam makes your chicken juicier and more tender. It makes your fish flakier. It rejuvenates leftovers without ruining their texture or creating scalding hot spots. Bread cooked with steam gets an impressively moist inside paired with a crispy crust. The list goes on and on.
Food is better with steam.
Because food is at its best when it’s cooked with wet AND dry heat. Typically, that means starting with wet heat and then finishing with dry heat to make for a really superb finish. We call this multi-step cooking.
Say you want to cook an incredible chicken breast. You’d start by baking and steaming your chicken simultaneously. This creates a humid environment that preserves your chicken’s moisture so it ends up wonderfully tender on the inside.
That’s when you’d make the switch to dry heat, baking then broiling your chicken to perfection. That dries out the surface of your chicken, allowing the Maillard Reactions to occur, giving it a dreamy golden-brown color and crispy texture on the outside.
This is the magic of coupling steam and multi-step cooking. Together, they give you a delicious, texturally layered experience that used to be reserved just for chefs. That’s not the case anymore. At Tovala, we’re excited about this wonderful development as food professionals, but we’re also ecstatic as enthusiastic eaters.
Take it from us, we’ve tasted the future. It’s delicious.