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From slow cookers to using your hob efficiently Wine News

Fridges and freezers, switched on 24/7, are among the most energy hungry items in your kitchen. Older fridge-freezers can cost as much as £500 a year, though a new one can cost a tenth of that according to the Centre for Sustainable Energy. But CSE points out that not defrosting your freezer regularly can add £150 a year to your bill, and that keeping it full is also more efficient. Defrosting food in the fridge isn’t just safer for the food, it keeps the temperature low in there so the motor has to work less hard. Likewise, allow hot dishes to cool before you put them in the fridge or you’ll raise the temperature and the fuel used. Plus it’s not really efficient – whatever they do on Bake Off, the fastest way to cool a cake is in front of an electric fan or by an open window, not in the freezer.

Be oven savvy

If you have a double oven, use the smaller one whenever possible, as it will take less energy to heat up and maintain temperature. Try cooking at least two dishes at the same time, though be aware that extra steam created can slow down browning and crisping. Avoid opening the door to peek at the food cooking – the oven will have to work harder, and use more fuel, to replace the heat that escapes.

Rethink preheating

New ovens heat up much faster than older cookers, saving fuel. Recipes often call for the oven to be preheated right at the start of the process (yup, I’m guilty of setting out directions like this) but if your oven gets to temperature quickly, don’t put it on until later. Apart from dishes that need a blast of quick heat, like pastry, bread, cakes and biscuits, you can often get away without preheating the oven at all. Finally, you can turn off the oven five to 10 minutes before the end of cooking time and let the dish finish cooking in the residual heat (see below).

Check your seals

Loose door seals let the warmth into fridges and freezers and out of ovens, meaning they have to use extra energy maintaining their temperature. To check yours are as efficient as possible shut a folded piece of paper in the door – it should be hard to pull out. Repeat on all four sides.

Use the right-sized hob ring for your pan

If you can see any of the electric ring, or any gas flames, when you look down on the pan from above, it’s heating the air in the kitchen not the pan – so a 15cm pan on a 20cm ring could be wasting 25 per cent of the energy. Swap the pan to a smaller ring.

Put a lid on it

Cook with the lid on your saucepan wherever possible: less heat escaping means that the dial can be turned lower, saving as much as 66 per cent of the fuel usage, according to Edison, a US power provider.

Don’t drop the mike

We all love the crisp, browned finish an oven gives, and foodies can be very snobby about microwaves, but it may be time to love the little rotating turntable. Microwaves are much more energy efficient than a conventional oven at simply delivering heat, so jacket potatoes (for example) can be started in the microwave then given half an hour in the oven to crisp the skin. Likewise reheating food is better done in the mike, even if you finish with a blast under the grill.

Only boil the amount of water you need in the kettle

Boiling a litre of water can use more than twice the energy it takes to boil the minimum amount, according to Which? If it’s just a mugful you need, use the mug to measure the water into the kettle. Limescale isn’t just annoying to find in your cup of tea, it also forces the kettle to use more power to boil, so descale as soon as you see a deposit. There’s no need to buy expensive descalers – just boil a cupful of cheap white vinegar, leave to cool then pour away and rinse well.

Soak beans – and rice

We all know that you don’t have to soak dried beans. If you are in a hurry, you can simply boil them for longer – an extra 20 minutes or so should do it (some people say that if you are sensitive to beans, you may find them a bit less digestible cooked this way). But soaking them overnight first saves fuel, and I find they keep their shape better this way, meaning there are fewer split beans.

Soaking rice for about half an hour in cold water will reduce the cooking time by about 20 per cent and also improve the flavour if you’re using a fragrant rice like basmati or jasmine, as heat destroys the delicate flavour compounds – so the shorter cooking time the better.

Try fasta pasta

This will make pasta purists hot under the collar, but according to the American chef Alton Brown, we’ve been getting how we cook it all wrong.

Traditionally dried pasta is cooked in loads of water: Anna del Conte, the doyenne of Italian cooking, recommends a litre of water for each 100g of dried pasta. This means cooking supper for four might involve bringing 4 litres of water to the boil, which will probably take more time and fuel than cooking the pasta itself.

Brown says to use far less water, just 1.9 litres for 450g pasta and then – here is the radical part – put the pasta and the cold water in a pan with 1 tbsp coarse salt, cover and bring to the boil. Then uncover, stir, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 4½ minutes exactly. Then drain, saving the cooking water for the sauce and serve.

I’ve tried it and it works perfectly for penne – you’ll need to test and adjust the cooking time for the variety of pasta, as fine vermicelli (for example) will be ready sooner. I’ve even scaled down, doing a single serving of 80g of macaroni in 340ml of water, though you won’t want to reduce the water any more. If all the measuring seems like a faff, Brown also suggests simply covering the pasta with water, so that it is 2.5cm above the top of the pasta, and then following the directions in the same way.

The other bonus is that the saved cooking water is well thickened with starch from the pasta, and brilliant for loosening the sauce – some traditions are definitely worth hanging on to.

The low-down on residual heat

The simplest form of residual-heat cooking is a haybox, basically a box packed with hay. A pan full of stew or rice, for example, is brought to the boil, covered tightly and put in the haybox before being covered with more hay and the lid. The dish finishes cooking in its own heat. In the Second World War tin-lined tea chests were used, and lining the box with foil and newspaper is a sensible move. You could use old pillows and duvets instead of hay. 

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This notice was published: 2022-09-01 06:02:42

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