Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simmering Stew Sans Smoke

Let's say that you built your Rocket Stove ( (Someday I'll figure out how to make the words "Rocket Stove" into a link here. But not this morning) and want to cook beans or do a long simmer of a stew. You can get the pot o' food up to a boil on the Rocket Stove, but keeping it there at a simmer for hours is NOT a good idea. First, it would take fuel all day. Second, you would be there feeding it the fuel all day, and you have a life.
What you need now is some variation on a Hay Box Cooker.

Original Hay Box Cooker
Traditionally a Hay Box Cooker is just what the title says - a box made of bales of hay. Hay insulates the pot/cassarole dish placed inside, and it cooks away for hours. Nothing burns. Wonderful low tech energy efficient approach to cooking!

My Insulated Cooker
I don't keep bales of hay in the house. Such a box would take up too much room, husband would throw a fit, and the cats would use it as a scratching post and soon I'd NOT have neat bales, or a box, but I'd have hay scattered all over the house.
What I do is use old coolers. My big one is an old plastic camping cooker, now cracked and permanently dirty. My smaller one is a styrofoam cooler that we got years back when we ordered a 3 pack of REAL Chicago Style pizzas, shipped from Chicago, frozen. Along with the coolers I use a bunch of small towels.

Actual Hay Box Cooking
When preparing to cook, I take the empty pot I'm going about to fill and use over to the cooler du jour. I put an inch of towels on the bottom. I place the pot in. I fill the area between the cooler walls and the pot with more towels. Then I take the pot away, leaving the 'nest' behind.
Now I fill the pot with what's to be cooked. Cover and heat the stuff to a boil on the rocket stove, and boil for about 5 minutes. This pasturizes things, if not sterilizes things. Now pop the pot back into the nest in the cooler, top with more towels, and close the cooler lid.

Be Prepared to Wait
Hay box cooking is NOT FAST. It is TOTALLY a part of the Slow Food Movement. I've read that you need to assume it will take one hour of hay box cooking for every 5 minutes you'd simmer on stove or in heated oven. Maybe my insulation is better than that of those authors, but I don't find it takes that long. OTOH, I can let it go that long - nothing burns, nothing evaporates.

Meal, with rocket stove and hay box
How does hay box plus rocket stove cooking work for a meal? Let's look at a stir-fry and rice dinner. Let's even assume that the rice is brown rice, which takes longer to cook.
So, after breakfast, you set up the hay box for your rice. Then you bring the rice/water/salt to a boil on the rocket stove. Once it has boiled 5 minutes you place it in the hay box, cover, and leave it for the rest of the day. If you are using white rice, do this at lunch or later.
The stir fry gets started at whatever point of your afternoon/evening that you normally would, for we all know that it's the cutting and measuring sauce stuff that takes the most time. Stir fry in a wok on the rocket stove. When stir fry is done, take pot of rice out of hay box. Serve dinner.
That's it.
Maybe I'll post a stir fry recipe tomorrow. We'll see.

Catch you later!


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