As one of Panasonic’s Intelligent Living Mums I’ve had the opportunity to visit Panasonic HQ and see their rather fabulous “ideas kitchen”. I’ve also had the chance to test out a few of their products, which is always fun. A couple of months ago a huge box was delivered to the geek residence. A huge box containing a snazzy combination oven – that’s a microwave, grill and convection oven all rolled into one. Our challenge, should we choose to accept it, was to try to cook with the thing…
For me this was a challenge, first of all because I’m not really known for my cooking skills, and second of all because apparently combination ovens can be tricky to get the hang of. I had to actually read the manual, which at first look appears dauntingly thick, but actually this is mostly due to the vast number of recipes contained within.
The combination oven can operate as a bulk standard microwave, and it’s a very powerful 1000W one at that. It also has three grill settings of various strengths, and the convection oven can operate at between 100C and 250C. Best of all you can use any combination of these cooking modes, meaning that you can combine the speed and convenience of microwave cooking with the benefits of grilling or traditional cooking. Imagine the perfect jacket potato with a soft, steaming hot centre and crispy skin – a combination oven makes that kind of cooking easy enough that even I can manage it!
The first thing that I noticed was different about this microwave was that it doesn’t have a turntable. It has a completely flat bottom. It comes with a glass tray that you can place on the bottom to act like a drip tray. I haven’t noticed any difference in the way food cooks with no turntable. The oven also comes with a wire shelf, much like a traditional oven shelf, a ceramic tray and an “anti spark ring” – a rather clever device that means you can place a metal tin on the wire shelf and operate the microwave without the whole thing sparking. There are slots in the side of the oven that will take either the wire shelf or the ceramic tray, and you very quickly get used to reading cooking instructions like “use wire shelf in lower position” or “place glass tray on wire shelf in upper position”.
There are lots of lovely recipes for the combination oven, both in the manual that comes with it and on the Ideas Kitchen website. I tried the Chicken Gratin recipe which worked really well, although both kids then declared they didn’t like the leeks so I haven’t tried it again. I have tried making chocolate brownies in it a couple of times – the first time I used the wrong tray, the second time was better, but I still haven’t got the consistency quite right. For my next attempt I’m going to be following this video recipe by Daniel Galmiche which I found on the Panasonic YouTube channel – this is actually a really good demonstration of some of the features of the combination oven:
We’re mostly using this oven for convenience foods. I’ve already mentioned how well it bakes jacket potatoes, but we’ve also discovered it’s great for cooking fish fingers and oven chips. The convection oven heats up so much more quickly than a conventional oven, and the addition of a little bit of grill makes the chips or fish fingers that bit more crisp. I can cook fish fingers for the kids tea in 10-12 minutes, which is faster than in my oven once you factor in the oven pre-heating time. It’s also got a vast array of auto-cook programs which make it very easy to cook almost anything, and a rather wizzy “chaos defrost” mode which is supposed to speed up the defrosting process by using a random sequence of pulsing microwave energy (sounds very clever – I have no idea how it works!).
The combination oven is more expensive than a simple microwave to buy – it retails for £330.99 in the Panasonic online store, although I found it significantly cheaper than that at £241.99 at Amazon.co.uk (affiliate link). That is probably still about £100 more than a comparable stand-along microwave, but you are getting a far more versatile device for your money. Having tried living with a combination oven I don’t think I could go back to a standard microwave again.
This blog post is also available in enhanced audio format – you can listen in the player below, or, if it’s not available, click on this link to listen on the Audioboo website.
Disclosure: We were provided with the Panasonic NN-CF771S combination oven for review purposes