Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gas vs. Electric

While considering the potential renovation of our home kitchen the issue of choosing a gas or electric cooktop came up, and a strange thought occurred to me (big surprise, I know - me having a strange thought - you'd think I was used to it by now).

The most common preference among cooking enthusiasts is gas, which allows you to quickly adjust the amount of heat being applied. Not so for electric, where the heating element takes long enough to cool down that it adds a significant challenge to making temperature-sensitive recipes (like many modern French sauces). In spite of being plumbed for gas, we have an electric cooktop.

In fact, I've been cooking on electric stoves for the past 24 years. You get used to it, really. You learn to move the pan around a lot, have it hang halfway off the element as it cools down, or lifting it up an inch or so for a minute. This makes my cooking style a bit funky when I'm working on the nice new gas stove at my mom's.

So my initial reaction was to go with a gas stove. After all, you can't get more medieval than cooking over fire, right?

Then I thought back to last summer, when I did a bit of cooking over a real fire using an earthenware pot. I had Helewyse de Birkestad (Louise Smithson) with me to show me the basics, and the first thing I learned is that I wasn't going to be cooking over flame. Instead we had the pot on a grill over coals. This gives a much more constant and even heat. So here's the kicker: how did we control the amount of heat applied to the pot? By moving it around. As the coals cooled down the pot got moved closer in. If it boiled a bit too much it got moved away - or was raised up a bit.

So maybe the past 24 years of electric cooktops was good training.

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