phynedyning

Get steamed…Breville steamer review

In Reviews on March 12, 2013 at 11:48 am

 

Breville BFS600XL (Photo Breville USA)

Breville BFS600XL (Photo Breville USA)

I had been immensely happy with my little, folding steamer. I paid about three bucks for it several years ago. It cleans up in a snap and folds for easy storage inside of a pot. There’s nothing to break and I anticipate it will last many more years.

[NOTE: I’m not even going to discuss traditional bamboo steamers. They are horrid to clean and they mold faster than old bread.]

My endeavor to find an electric steamer arose out of another issue.

I was changing my diet to omit almost all white rice and potatoes. Both of these foods are high on the glycemic index and, therefore, have a strong connection to pre-diabetes, diabetes, and obesity.

Unlike using real butter (versus that industrial chemical glop), you can’t really cut down eating white potatoes or rice to a ‘safer’ amount. Even small amounts of them send blood sugars soaring. It is strongly conjectured that the resulting insulin spikes play a critical role in someone developing insulin resistance and, ultimately, Type-II diabetes. The association has been long known and diabetes educators preach a catechism of “If it’s white, spit it out.”

Consequently, I began changing the family’s rice stores over to brown rice. But, it came with a catch.

Unlike white rice, that cooks nicely in a microwave, brown rice cooked that way often emerges soggy and mushy. Cooking brown rice on the stovetop takes a good amount of time and the cleanup can be tragic.

I began researching rice cookers online. Reviews were pretty mixed. Higher priced steamers tended to be better reviewed than bargain cookers. If I was going to add another countertop animal to my kitchen menagerie, I wanted one that would do several things well.

The Breville BFS600XL caught my eye.

It’s a multi-tiered steamer that promises the ability to steam an entire meal through the magic of stacked steam chambers. I read reviews by other users and the multi-tiered feature got smacked around pretty good. Very few users found the appliance capable of delivering steam hot enough to the top tier to give consistent cooking results. Other than a few more seemingly trite complaints about features, the Breville looked like a good candidate.

What made me give Breville a second look?

A Breville toaster oven got rave reviews on America’s Test Kitchen. In his summary remarks about the oven, host Christopher Kimball heaped praise on the Breville family of small appliances.

The Breville steamer isn’t cheap. Online prices range from about $75 to $300, depending on the retailer. I began setting aside shekels in my kitchen equipment fund and hoped to make the purchase by summer.

Then, I found one in a local thrift store. It was still in the box and it still had the stickers on all of the pieces. I looked in the base and there was no evidence the machine had ever been used.

Ten bucks. Done.

After a giving the Breville a good cleaning, just in case, I was ready to give it a test flight.

I measured water and rice into the provided cooking bowl according to the instruction book’s suggested recipe, filled the water reservoir, and fired it up for the recommended sixty minutes. In an hour I had…

…mush.

The cooked rice was set aside for my backyard birds and I began another batch using less water and only fifty minutes of steaming time. This time, I got…

…perfectly cooked brown rice.

I now make several cups of brown rice days in advance. Then, I just microwave it for breakfast in a flash; just add some soy sauce and Vietnamese chili paste.

Next, I tried steaming cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli. I used the time table in the instructions as only a rough guide for each vegetable. Since it’s always better to undercook than overcook (since you can’t un-cook), I worked up from about 5-10 minutes less than the recommended cooking times. I typically found that single-tier steaming times of 30-50% longer than the recommended times were needed. If I steamed vegetables on a second tier, times of up to 2x were needed. Steaming times for hard vegetables in the third tier were ridiculously high and still resulted in an almost raw food.

I did not attempt to steam fish or meat in my Breville.

The steamer has a huge number of crannies and crevices. Other reviewers had groused about the steamer being almost impossible to clean of oils and fats after steaming meat or fish. I wanted my steamer mainly for cooking vegetables, eggs, and rice. Rancid oils lurking in a tiny void to flavor those foods would not make me happy. I would continue to use my folding steamer for meats and fish. Besides, the walls of the Breville’s steam chambers are quite high. It could be a monumental task to remove a thin, steamed fillet of tilapia with a spatula.

We’re especially fond of poached eggs, smoked salmon, and bagels on a Sunday morning. But cleaning an egg poacher is not a fun task. We found we were deferring our favorite breakfast because of the cleaning chore.

I decided to give the Breville a go at poached eggs.

After placing a very small pat of butter in the bottom of a ramekin, I carefully broke an egg into it. They went into the steamer. After the recommended 5-6 minutes, I had…

…warm, raw eggs.

This led me to an important discovery.

Cooking times are more in agreement with the instruction book if the steamer is allowed to ‘pre-heat’ for 3-5 minutes before adding the food. The book does not mention pre-heating the appliance.

With my poached eggs, I simply set the steamer’s timer for 3-5 minutes and put my ramekins into a chamber when the timer sounded. Perfect.

[Breville should note this and replace the steamer’s timer with one that allows the device to pre-heat before counting down cooking time. You’re welcome, Breville.]

Eggs poached reliably in a second tier, but did not if they were placed in a third.

[The booklet claims the Breville may be used to boil eggs. I did not attempt eggs, other than poached. It’s simple enough to heat water in a pot and then cook eggs to the desired hardness.]

In my opinion, the third tier is quite useless for steaming. BUT, it is absolutely wonderful when used to ‘hold’ cooked foods or to freshen up a slightly stale baguette or dinner roll. If you don’t want soggy rolls or drenched food, tip the steamer lid up at one end to keep condensation from dripping onto food below.

Since acquiring my Breville, I’ve steamed frozen (and fresh) green beans, potatoes, corn, peas, and bok choy. All of them emerged wonderfully crisp. I’m eagerly looking forward to sweet corn season.

The Breville, in addition to the rice/sauce bowl, comes with a ‘fence’ to separate foods cooked in the same chamber. This would be quite handy when steaming, say broccoli, with edamame.

Cleanup is a snap. As long as no meat is cooked in the Breville, washing consists of a few swishes of soapy water. None of the parts are dishwasher safe! I presume they’ll warp during the drying cycle. Once a week I demineralize the base with a tablespoon of white vinegar added to two cups of water. The scale disappears and I wipe out the base to a smooth luster.

SUMMARY

When I sat down to review the Breville, I asked only if the machine did what the maker said it would do.

It does.

But, in all honesty, I doubt I would have been willing to cough up $300 for one. And, if I had, I would probably have a good deal of buyer’s remorse afterward.

But for ten bucks? Yeah, I like it.

Once I got the cooking times down, the machine did a great job. Cleanup is just as fast as washing a folding steamer, pot, and cover. It looks nice on the countertop. And it can be set to keep cooked foods warm.

The Breville BFS600XL is a decent small appliance. At $75-300, it doesn’t do much more than an $8 folding steamer timed with a kitchen clock, except to add a bit of convenience. The instruction book is clearly written, but the suggested cooking times in it should only be used as a very rough estimate.

If you have dollars to spare, buy the Breville. If not, keep checking those thrift stores and second-hand shops.

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