From Baking to Sous Vide, This Smart Steam Oven Is Your New Kitchen BFF

Look, I have to tell you about the baguettes I made a couple of weeks ago.

There I was, watching this gloopy dough rise, working it with floured hands into long thin strands, seeing it swell to fit the pan, then witnessing the real miracle, the puffing and tanning of these pale tubes into camera-ready loaves.

I couldn’t believe I made them. Neither could my French uncle-in-law. And in truth, I only sort of did. Most of the credit goes to the special baguette pan, the recipe—and the oven.

For about a month, I’ve been testing the Anova Precision Oven, an internet-connected countertop electric oven that cooks with steam. In restaurants and home kitchens fancier than mine, these combi ovens can cost thousands. Anova’s 1,800-watt appliance, which plugs into a regular wall socket, costs $600.

The Anova Precision Oven is small enough to fit on a countertop under the cabinets, but big enough to cook a whole chicken.



Photo:

Wilson Rothman/The Wall Street Journal

Yet it managed to show up my powerful gas oven again and again, with crunchy yet chewy baguettes and dinner rolls, crispy yet juicy roasted chicken, a full head of evenly steamed cauliflower, succulent ribs and pork butt cooked overnight, perfect medium-rare beef tenderloin, and more. (Hope you brought a snack while reading this.)

People in other countries might laugh at my revelation: Steam ovens are already popular around the world. But in the U.S., they’re few and far between. Beyond the price, part of the fear, for me, is that I wouldn’t know how to use it. None of my cooking buddies have one. That’s why Anova’s appearance on the scene is welcome. Not only is it a competitively priced hardware option, but it also already has a deep catalog of recipes showing the full range of the product. The oven’s app carries you through every step of every dish, with instructions and animations, while automatically adjusting the oven settings via Wi-Fi as you go.

While it’s not perfect, the Anova Precision Oven delivered the best crash course in steam/combi cooking that I could’ve possibly received. And it made a middling baker like me look like I was ready for the Great British baking tent. Whether you’re also a big food nerd or just a kitchen competent looking to level up the boring dinner routine or improve your baking skills, this oven is a reason to rejoice.

How It All Works

Steam ovens like this have two separate modes: a low-temperature mode that ranges from about 75 degrees Fahrenheit up to 212 degrees (water’s boiling point at sea level), and a higher-temperature mode, which can pump steam into the oven when it’s running at much higher temperatures.

The reservoir on the side of the oven holds enough water to provide weeks, if not months, of steam.



Photo:

Wilson Rothman/The Wall Street Journal

With the first approach, you can use the oven like you would steam vegetables and fish on the stove, just without boiling water

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Legendary Charlie Trotter’s sous chef Reggie Watkins, ‘backbone’ of kitchen for 25 years, dies at 64

For 25 years, Reginald Watkins was the backbone of one of the most famous kitchens in the world, the acclaimed Charlie Trotter’s in Lincoln Park. While a stunning roster of chefs passed through the restaurant throughout the years, Watkins remained a constant, working as the primary sous chef — and kitchen confidante for owner Charlie Trotter — until he left the restaurant in 2011, a year before it closed for good.



Charlie Trotter, Margalita Chakhnashvili posing for the camera: Chef Reginald Watkins, right, holds a sign honoring his former boss Charlie Trotter, center, during a ceremony naming a portion of Armitage Avenue as Honorary Charlie Trotter Way in August 2012.


© Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Chef Reginald Watkins, right, holds a sign honoring his former boss Charlie Trotter, center, during a ceremony naming a portion of Armitage Avenue as Honorary Charlie Trotter Way in August 2012.

On Monday night, Watkins died at age 64, of unknown causes during a visit to the emergency room in his home city of Chicago, after having spent the last several years working and living in Louisiana.

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Following news of his death, many former co-workers from Trotter’s and beyond shared heartfelt memories and regards on social media about “Chef Reggie,” a man they remembered as being tough but gentle — and a necessary guide to help young chefs survive what was a notoriously demanding kitchen environment.

“He was a legend in his own right,” said his daughter, Lerita Watkins.

“He was a real icon at that restaurant,” echoed chef David LeFevre, who worked two stints at Trotter’s kitchen between 1995 and 2004.

The Los Angleles-based LeFevre was among a long list of former co-workers who shared tributes to Watkins earlier this week, along with Grant Achatz, Bill Kim, Giuseppe Tentori, Sari Zernich-Worsham and plenty more.

“My dad was in love with cooking, working, being amongst his peers who also shared his love with being a chef,” Lerita Watkins said. “He kept in touch with so many of those people that he trained. He did.”

Born and raised near 35th Street and King Drive, Reggie Watkins was raised by his mother and grandmother and lived in the city for almost his entire life. In 1987, he responded to a newspaper classified ad seeking kitchen help, which led to his meeting Charlie Trotter, who was looking to open a restaurant. The ad had published for the first time on that date, Trotter’s son Dylan said, and Watkins was the first person to respond.

“When he first met my dad, he was just going to lie and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve cooked before,’” Dylan Trotter said Watkins recently shared with him. “But then when he saw my dad and saw his face, he was like, ‘I knew I couldn’t lie to this guy. I had to tell him the truth.’ They just had the connection right off the bat.”

The rest is actual history. Watkins was famously hired as the first-ever employee at Trotter’s, running the kitchen from its first day until his last day in 2011. He and Charlie Trotter grew to be close friends, almost like brothers: “We always envisioned those two getting old together,” LeFevre said. (The restaurant closed in

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