Now that winter has well and truly settled in (I'm sitting at my desk with the heater gently warming my feet), I'm sure that a lot of you have dusted off the slow cooker to make your soups and stews. I've wondered about slow cookers, how much power do they use, especially considering they have to be on for at least 6 hours? I haven't done the research, but I hope that they are somewhat power-efficient.
But I'm sure that it is not as efficient as the vacuum pot! A slow cooker is on for 6-8 hours to cook a stew, for example, where as a vacuum pot is on the stove for only about 25 minutes in total. So I've ditched the slow cooker and moved on in favour of the vacuum pot.
So what is a vacuum pot?
Also known as a thermal cooker, it is relatively common in Asia and uses the same principle as a standard Thermos flask. You have hot ingredients sealed inside a vacuum container. This keeps the heat in at higher temperatures, for longer. This means that you can assemble your meal on the stove, simmer it for a few minutes, pop it into the vacuum pot, close it up and leave it. You can go to work, go out, whatever...and not worry about it drying out or boiling over while you're away.
I can see immediate benefits for not only a busy family for cooking the evening meal while everyone's at work and school; but also for people who are camping, boating or travelling around.
This is how it works
A vacuum pot consists of two containers: the inner cooking pot and the outer vacuum pot. The inner cooking pot is used on the stove like a regular pot. Put your dish together in this pot like normal - sautee the garlic, brown the meat etc - and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes then take it off the heat and immediately put it into the outer vacuum pot and close the lid.
The trick with using a vacuum pot is that you just need to remember that the pot will retain whatever heat is in the food. This means that food that is suitable for dishes that are high in liquid, like soups and casseroles. While your dish is safe and secure in the vacuum pot, it continues to cook slowly making the dish oh-so-tender. After a few hours in the vacuum pot, simply remove the inner cooking pot, pop it back on the stove and reheat for a few minutes.
When I first started using the vacuum pot, I was surprised at how much heat is retained in the pot even after 4-5 hours. This means that reheating only takes a few minutes.
I'm sold, where do I get one?
Vacuum pots may be found at your local Asian grocery store. The one that I have is made by Thermos and is called Shuttle Chef. My vacuum pot has both a earthenware and stainless steel inner cooking pot, but most come with just the stainless steel pot. This was bought overseas and cost around $300. But I've seen non-Thermos brand vacuum pots for around half that price.
Sounds great, what can I make?
The vacuum pot is perfect for dishes that need simmering for hours. I like to make:
- bolognese sauce
- chilli con carne
- Chinese chicken and shitake mushroom casserole
- beef stew
I've read that you can also make cake and steamed puddings with it, I haven't tried it but I think it's worth a try!
If you have a vacuum pot, let me know what you think, I'd love to know.
Try my favourite recipe
Here's one of my favourite dishes that I make in my vacuum pot, my chicken and shitake mushroom casserole. Try it, it's delicious made in either a regular or vacuum pot.
By Andrea Wong