With Thanksgiving-slash-Thanksgivukkah and the rest of the holiday season fast approaching, we've had a nonstop stream of recipes on our minds, along with near-obsessive anxiety over the capabilities of our major applicances. Now is not the time to have your trusted oven die on you, which is probably why sales of stoves, ranges and ovens all go up towards the end of the year. If you're part of this trend and considering trading up to a model that includes a convection oven, you may want to double down and look into expanding steam options too. According to Nathan Myhrvold's epic Modernist Cuisine, they're the next big thing in home-cooking technology.
While convection ovens, which are becoming more widely available for home kitchens, have fans in the back that uniformly circulate the hot air around your food, steam ovens allow you to control the humidity levels, delivering food that's moist and precisely cooked — from hard-boiled eggs to juicy, roasted meats. In the past, steam ovens have been more popular in Europe, largely due to the electrical and plumbing requirements and the design and installation of most models (wall-in ovens aren't as common in the U.S. as they are across the Atlantic), but a spate of new options combining steam and convection technology from brands like Wolf, Gaggenau and Miele have begun cropping up in the past few years.
During a recent visit to one of Miele's kitchen centers in Seattle, we got to play around with the brand's new Combi-Steam oven, which offers the features of a convection oven, a steam oven, or both at once. Homemade pop-tarts came out crisp and flaky with jam-oozing insides, while custardy pumpkin pot de cremes cooked in less time, and without the need of a typical water bath.
Of course, as with induction cooking or even convection technology alone, you'll need to leave room for adjustment according to various recipes and your own preferences. On this particular model, there are over 100 pre-programmed settings, along with five devoted to specific types and cuts of meat that use lower temperatures and slow-cooking techniques.
As more brands jump on the convection-steam bandwagon, such ovens will likely become more affordable. For now, they're still a somewhat steep investment, but in the case of Miele's high-tech Combi-Steam (starting at $3,695), the price and innovation go hand in hand.