New Toy: Silicone Cocotte

22 Apr

On my last trip to Japan, I noticed a trendy new kitchen gadget in the stores: the silicone steamer/baker. It’s designed to be used primarily for microwave cooking, though it can also go in the oven. It’s so popular that it’s spawned its own category of cookbooks and magazines — one of which included a free silicone steamer. (Although, at 1,500 yen — about $20 at the current heinous exchange rate — it’s more accurate to say I bought a steamer with a free cookbook.)

Let's play!

I’ve used the microwave for things like reheating and melting things (like butter, chocolate, and saran wrap), but never for actual cooking. I occasionally steam vegetables, but only when pressed for time; the bowl always gets too hot, and it seems like I end up with a puddle on the bottom and raw bits in the middle. The silicone steamer pot (I’m calling it a cocotte because it sounds more sophisticated, and microwave cooking needs all the sophistication it can muster) promises to regulate heat and steam so that things cook evenly without getting watery, and the silicone won’t get hot or melt like ceramic or plasticware.

Shrimp and tofu in chili sauce, pre-microwave

I decided to try a “stir-fry” recipe to really put the steamer/cocotte to the test. According to the book, using the microwave means you don’t need as much oil, so it’s lower in fat. Some of the recipes include tips on layering the ingredients — things that release a lot of liquid are placed on the bottom, for example — but in this case, I just tossed the shrimp and tofu with the chili sauce.

The final product

So, did it work? Am I willing to put away my wok and pots for the ease of microwave cooking? Well, the steamer definitely beats other containers; the pot itself didn’t get hot (although it’s kind of floppy, so you’ll want to use potholders to defend your hands against the hot steam that will leak out as the lid warps), and most importantly, the contents didn’t get watery, thanks to the vent in the lid. And it was a lot faster and cleaner than making stir-fry the traditional way, which involves a lot of tossing and swearing as whatever you’re stir-frying ends up all over the stove. However, you also don’t get that sauteed texture or carmelized flavor that you would from a wok. It’s definitely useful for a household pressed for time — you can prep your ingredients in the morning, and then stick the pot in the microwave and have a hot meal in 5 minutes — and I think I’ll use it for steaming and simmering, but I don’t think I’m giving up the stove anytime soon.

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