When it comes to cooking on the road, it seems an increasing number of grey nomads are discovering the many advantages of going ‘back to the future’ in the kitchen department. Some veteran travellers are turning their backs on the dizzying array of shiny, high-tech culinary gadgets and devices in favour of a cooking method born in an age of hardship and shortages.
Retained-heat cooking was apparently used by early settlers, during the Second World War, and is also used in parts of Africa where cooking fuel shortages are a major issue. The principle is mind-bogglingly simple and the results are incredibly satisfactory.
Sometimes known as haybox cooking, retained-heating cooking requires heat to be applied to begin the cooking process. Then, the pot can be taken off the heat and covered in insulation, so that the food continues to cook for several hours, courtesy of the retained heat. For example, a stew with meat and veges is prepared and brought to the boil and, although it is a long way from being fully cooked, the stew can be taken off the heat and the pot moved to an insulated container and left.
Retained heat cooking does not require purpose-built utensils, so normal saucepans or pots of any size can be wrapped in towels, blankets or placed in a polystyrene-filled box or similar and the heat already generated will do the rest.
The amount of cooking needed before the pot is taken off the stove will obviously depend on what is being cooked and in what quantities. The method can be used to cook stews, casseroles, beans or even rice. Once the food is removed from the heat, the temperature may slowly fall from there but, with sufficient insulation, it stays high enough for the food to be eaten much, much later.
For the grey nomad, there are some enormous extra advantages. Weary travellers can arrive at their campsite after a long day on the road with a ready-made stew sitting in the boot, or they can come back to the van after a long bushwalk and, instead of starting cooking, can move straight to pouring their wine to accompany their ready-to-go meal.
And it saves cooking fuel, is better for the environment, and uses less water … what’s not to like? The only real downside is the danger of bacterial growth if food is cooked for long periods of time below 60C (140F). The best way to prevent this danger is to either cook the food above 60C for 10 minutes before putting it in the insulated environment or to reheat the food to boiling just before eating it.