Who would ever think that today, the microwave oven is one of the fastest selling home appliances in the country? Surrounded by an aura of fear and pessimism when it first moved into the market, the time- and energy-saving cooking device is now enjoying its peak of glory. The burgeoning interest in microwave technology is also spurring food packers to package foods that are adaptable to microwave cooking. As the demand grows, specialty cookware shops are stacking their shelves with innovative microwave accessories and cookware.
Just as busy, microwave oven manufacturers have not stopped at producing plain microwave ovens. All along in the back of their minds is the public cry from otherwise happy microwave owners: "Away with soggy foods!" It's an unfortunate fact that ordinary microwave ovens do not produce crisp foods.
Still not widely known, microwave-convection combination oven manufacturers have been trying to solve that problem over the years since the ovens were first introduced. Sanyo's Micro-Convection Oven could just pave the way to popularity for this combination cooking unit. Taking a cue from small subcompact microwave ovens that are currently dominating the scene, their new combination oven falls into the lower-priced bracket; suggested retail is $399. Its sleek European styling and unique clean-white cabinetry definitely makes it attractive enough to fin into any kitchen decor.
Sanyo's new offering (model EMO-M51) features four-way cooking, with a rotating turntable. Sporting a stainless steel interior, the appliance allows you to cook the following ways: micro-defrost, microwave-cook, top brown/broil and convection-bake.
Almost elementary looking, the combination system has push buttons illustrated with simple symbols thatare popularly used with international market goods. There is a convection oven thermostat control that starts from warm (120 degrees)to a high setting of 480 degrees. The timer knob goes back to the old-fashioned twist-knob, which I personally prefer to the electronic touch control.
What is one gaining with the addition of convection?"Crispness, the one thing we missed in microwave is taken care of by convection, the hot air that removes enough moisture to crisp foods," says Thelma Pressman, Sanyo's director of consumer education and services. "The heat source, called the convector, has no cal rod unit. . . . It's like a hair dryer that moves air to circulate the heat for even cooking."
Time-saving is not a big quality in Sanyo's convection system. "True convection ovens in restaurants and bakeries have a more powerful fan so that more time is saved," she said. "But you'll love the perfect pastries, quiches and roasts baked through convection. The biggest saving is in combination. For instance, foods may be cooked half the time on the microwave and then finished off in either convection or broil."
Highly Pleasing Results
We did just that with the oven-fried chicken recipe listed in the appliance's cookbook, a beautifully illustrated and simple-to-follow recipe and instruction book prepared by Pressman and staff home economists. Dredged in garlic-seasoned cornflake crumbs and egg, the chicken was micro-cooked for 20 minutes, then convection-baked at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. The result was highly pleasing to the staff:The chicken was succulent in the inside and crisp outside. Another test that was successful was twice-baked potatoes. The potatoes were microwaved, the flesh riced and mixed with butter, sour cream and bacon, and then the restuffed shells were finished off by convection baking. Total cooking time was 24 minutes.
Aside from price, the reason combination ovens probably have not become instantly popular before is due to lack of knowledge about convection cookery. Pressman explained:"Education starts from ground zero again but no matter what appliance is used, cooking is always a matter of observation and taste."
Actually, no major changes are necessary when adapting your favorite oven recipes to convection cooking in this unit, she said. Like any other type of cooking, there will always be variances in timing depending on the type, quantity, shape and density of food. With the combination unit one can stop the cooking at the minimum time given in the recipe by opening the see-through oven door.
With all the things that this oven can do, it is almost asking too much to have multipower settings in its microwave function. Thus, there is only one setting in this unit. The cooking power chosen was for 500 watts (most smaller units go up to 450 watts and high-power ones to 700 watts). Pressman explained:"500 watts has more ability to cook with less danger of overcooking;you can't cook a roast on high wattage all the way anyway."
Constant Stream of Hot Air
Another limitation is the top brown/broil function. When in use, the coil located in the top of the oven gets heated up, and a constant stream of hot air flows from the top screened opening. The heat doesn't go up to normal broiling temperature;rather it's about 485 degrees, which is 70 degrees lower than conventional broilers. This explains why quickly broiled foods such as grilled fish may not become as nicely browned in the unit as one might wish. We found it did, however, cook to as tender and juicy a state as one could want.
We also noticed that the unit was noisier than standard microwave ovens when in operation. Pressman explained that this is due to the fan that is typical in convection units.
Before operating the microwave-convection oven, it is a good idea to study the book very carefully for best cooking results and to read all precautionary measures. "People involved with straight microwave should remember to use hot pads now that they're using the other combination cooking aspects," Pressman advises.
The Sanyo Micro-Convection Oven has a suggested retail price of $399 and is available at Friedman's Microwave Ovens stores and at Federated Stores.