Retained heat cooking; a magical way to prepare beans

One day last winter the girls and I made a “magic box”.  I had been doing some research on basket cooking, or retained heat cooking—a method that saves fuel and firewood encouraged in many countries around the world–and wanted to give it a try at home.  I explained to Belén and Susanna that we would be decorating a special box that would do a trick; it would cook our rice, soften our lentils and even tenderize kidney beans!  The first time we did it I made a big deal out of bringing the food to a boil, quickly wrapping it in a towel, placing it in the magic box, covering it with blankets, and closing the lid.  When we opened the box 5 or 6 hours later, with much pomp and circumstance, our food was cooked to perfection.

These days, I continue to use the magic box idea but we have lost the actual box and the pomp and circumstance looks more like this:

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the beginning of the process

After a weekend away our suitcase quietly explodes on our kitchen floor.  This usually goes on for days, but with the wonder of retained-heat cooking I can take advantage of all those clothes laying around.  First I soak my Arikara beans, then I rinse them and bring them to a boil, in plenty of water, on my stove top.  Next I wrap the pot in a clean kitchen towel, set it carefully in the box and throw whatever insulation I can find on top of it.  Now I get to feel good about not cleaning up our clothes, and the fact that I am only using about  10% of the energy I would normally consume if I were going to let them cook on my stove!

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Rice doesn’t need to sit as long as beans do. I let legumes sit in the box for at least 5 hours.

Everytime I do this I still get excited about the first peek… will my food be cooked?

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Yes, yes it will!

Check out this site for more info if this kind of thing turns your crank.

Of course, this is not new technology.  Different people groups have been applying this principle for years (burying food underground or covering it with hay to cook).  Posters and flyers describing this way of cooking were distributed around England during the war years to promote energy savings, and NGOs still encourage this practice in areas of the world where firewood and other resources are scarce.

While we personally can afford to cook with our stove as much as we want, I regularly cook this way because it’s so simple.  And simplicity is elegance, even when it comes to beans!

Have a great Monday,

Tricia

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4 thoughts on “Retained heat cooking; a magical way to prepare beans

    • Good question.
      I believe the key issue here is the temperature of the food during the slow cooking time.
      Assuming the food has been brought to a vigorous boil, is covered immediately and placed in sufficient insulation, the temperature of the food should stay above 125F or 52C. I have not personally taken the temperature of my food after removing it from the cooking box, but I am always amazed at how hot everything feels. You might want to measure the temp. of your food after trying this method to make sure it remains above levels that inhibit bacteria growth.
      I have never tried cooking meat with this method, but I know that many others do.
      That said, I am not a food safety expert by any means. Please cook at your own risk!
      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the question. I also checked your site out. It looks delicious. Best of Luck,
      Tricia

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