A popular and versatile addition to kitchens in every sector of the market, combi ovens combine two separate cooking methods - steaming and convection cooking - and are particularly suited to cooking roasted meats.
Widely regarded as the most versatile piece of cooking equipment, and popular with chefs in every sector of the market, combination ovens, or combi steamers, were invented in the 1970s. They combine two separate conventional cooking methods, steaming and convection cooking, and offer a choice of three cooking modes: steam, hot air (convection) and a combination of the two.
By adjusting the balance of hot air and steam, the combi steamer can be used to cook a huge range of different dishes and it combines the advantages of steam cooking (short cooking times and less shrinkage) with those of hot air cooking (appetising colour and aroma). Thus roast meats come out beautifully succulent, and just as rare or well done as the chef wants, yet crispy outside. Pastries have a perfectly browned crust, yet are light and tender inside.
Foods that respond well to the combi mode of cooking include: all types of roasts, pork, beef, lamb, poultry, meat loaf, meat pies, fish, casseroles, stuffed vegetables, vegetables au gratin and yeast dough. While combi ovens are promoted for their multi-function cooking versatility, many are sold on the quality of food prepared in this combination mode.
In addition, combi-mode cooking delivers higher yields with roasted meats and poultry. This reduction in shrinkage can make significant savings.
Combi steamers are available in gas or electric models and come in all shapes and sizes, with half, full and double-size GN pan capacity versions, in tabletop, floor and roll-in configurations. Some manufacturers offer double stacking models while others make a wider range of different sizes.
Combi ovens combine steam and convection cooking methods, and by adjusting the balance of hot air and steam, they can be used to cook a huge range of different dishes
THE VERSATILE COMBI STEAMER
The combi steamer can be used for a huge range of cooking processes - this versatility has made it popular with just about every sector of the market. It's especially beneficial in kitchens where space is limited, because it can replace lots of different pieces of equipment. It can:
â- Rethermalise or regenerate (for cook-chill)
â- Prepare sous vide products
â- Prepare from frozen
â- Slow cook
â- Fast cook
â- Oven bake (pre-fried product)
â- Overnight cook
From boiled eggs to roast beef, from chips to soufflé; the combi steamer can cook a huge range of products.
Combi steamers can save energy. Manufacturers estimate that cooking in a combi oven uses up to 60% less energy than cooking with traditional equipment. Its ability to cook so many different products means a combi can replace several different pieces of cooking equipment.
Manufacturers have invested heavily in developing user-friendly control systems - even inexperienced staff should be able to reproduce consistent, quality results at the touch of a button.
Like steamers (and any catering equipment using water), combi ovens can experience water-related problems. Some models incorporate pre-programmed cleaning and descaling cycles that use the unit's steam capability to aid cleaning. The latest versions include self-cleaning features, which minimise the time and effort that staff need to spend on cleaning, and systems that don't just monitor for limescale, but also descale the unit.
Modern combi steamers use pre-set programmes for cooking - tell the unit what is being cooked and it takes over the whole process. They can also be linked to the internet, so that new programmes, or adjustments to current programmes, can be downloaded direct to the combi. This can be especially useful for restaurant chains that have common menus.
Q I'm head of catering services at a university with 9,000 students, and we're due to replace our combi steamers. Currently we have models with boilers, but boilerless ones seem to be less expensive. Are they as good?
A That depends on your priorities. Boilerless combis work by spraying water directly into the oven cavity. The water turns to steam as it hits the hot surfaces. The designs are simpler, as there is no boiler, so these models cost less to buy. They can also be cheaper to run, as steam is only produced when it is needed. On the other hand, they are slower to produce steam, are more affected by door openings and temperature control may be less accurate.
Q I own a busy rural pub serving restaurant and bar meals. Just how good are the self-cleaning programmes on combi steamers? Some of the claims sound too good to be true.
A Most combi manufacturers or dealers should be able to arrange a demonstration for you, either in a showroom or, perhaps more usefully, at another customer's site. That way you'll be able to check the claims first hand. However, there's no doubt that some manufacturers have developed incredibly thorough and sophisticated systems that result in a better, more hygienic job than could ever be achieved by hand. Obviously the self-cleaning programme only tackles the interior of the combi.
Q Adding a water treatment system to a combi is not only expensive, it also takes up a load of room in the kitchen and it adds to the running costs. Is it really necessary? I run a high-street diner with limited kitchen space.
A Limescale build-up is the biggest single cause of service call-outs and breakdowns in combis. Water treatment protects the combi and lengthens its service life - adding a water treatment system will certainly save money, even in the medium term. If space is critical, there are combis that feature in-built descaling systems that don't require a separate water treatment system, so it may be worth investigating these.