If baked and roasted foods dominate your list of favorite recipes, adding convection-cooking capabilities to your kitchen belongs on your wish list. Except for lightweight items such as souffles, you'll see a boost in flavor, texture and moistness when you prepare your favorites through convection cooking. To get the most out of a convection-capable oven, start by understanding how these appliances work and how their operation differs from conventional radiant heat preparation methods.
How It Works
If you listen while your recipes cook in a conventional oven, you can hear the food sizzle. Prepare the same dishes in a convection oven and that sizzle competes with the sounds of air-circulating fans that blow horizontally through the oven cavity. It's the opposite of the phenomenon that makes air temperatures feel lower on a windy day. Instead of wind chill, convection increases heat transfer and speeds up the chemical reactions that cause food to cook. It seals in meat juices, produces crispier crusts and enhances the texture of baked foods. You'll find convection features on ranges and in dual cooking-mode microwave ovens.
Convection cooking speeds up food's reaction to heat. To take full advantage of its cooking performance, adjust nonconvection recipes accordingly. Most cooks adopt one of three strategies for making food preparation convection friendly. You can drop the recommended temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and maintain the stipulated cooking time, reduce the time by about 25 percent and keep the temperature recommendation, or do both for foods that benefit from a combined strategy. A convection cookbook and some experiments of your own can help you sort out which strategies best suit which foods.
Selecting and Arranging Cookware
Convection helps spread heat evenly throughout the oven cavity, but without room for it to circulate, the air can't reach all the food. Use the shallowest utensils that accommodate your recipes, removing the obstacle posed by the high sides of deep pans and the raised edges on cookie sheets. Leave at least an inch of horizontal space between pans on the same rack and the same amount of vertical space between items on adjacent racks. Some recipes call for food placement directly on rack tines; covering them with aluminum foil may ease cleanup, but it does so at the expense of air circulation. Finally, avoid dark pans and opt for glass utensils whenever possible.
Convection ovens come in two categories. Most convection ranges use electricity as their energy source, although some gas ranges include convection features. Regular appliances heat the air in the oven cavity with electric elements placed at its top and bottom and circulate the air with a fan mounted in the oven wall. So-called "true" or "European" convection places the heating element behind the fan and doesn't use the heating elements used by conventional radiant baking and roasting. Expect to pay more for appliances with "true" convection because of the additional parts and engineering it requires.
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