Going electric

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 2010, 12:00am

I moved recently from a flat that had a dream kitchen - plenty of counter space; a large storage area; a five-burner gas stove (including one burner for wok-cooking); and an oven so big I could roast two turkeys at the same time in it - to a home without any of that. The transition wasn't as painful as I thought it would be, probably because I had some experience of cooking in much smaller kitchens.

The part of the new kitchen that worried me the most was the stove - it had electric burners, which I had never used before. I had heard horror stories about electric stovetops - that they took ages to heat and that the heat couldn't be controlled precisely enough to give subtle variations between, for instance, a simmer and low boil.

But I've learned to cope. I'd still prefer to use gas or even induction, but modern, flat-top electric stoves have come a long way since the times of slow-heating metal coils.

Although modern electric cookers heat quickly, they still have the major drawback of being slow to cool. Gas and induction cookers give off little to no residual heat: once the power is turned off, a boiling pot will immediately stop boiling. With an electric cooker, once the power is switched off, the burner's heat lingers, so a boiling pot will continue to boil, if only for a short while.

If not taken into account, this excess heat could make the difference between a caramel that's just dark enough to one that's burned; or cause a pan of simmering milk to overboil.

Electric cookers require a different mindset - you need to think ahead, which you should be doing anyway, but now even more so. Turn off the burner (or reduce the 'flame') before you think you need to, so the residual heat doesn't burn the food. This is especially important with oil, which can catch fire if overheated. Have oven gloves to hand, in case you need to quickly remove a pan that's about to boil over; and have dry wooden-handled metal implements (such as ladles) nearby, to plunge, if necessary, into the boiling-over liquid (metal absorbs heat).

It is tempting to use the smooth, expansive tops of modern electric stoves as work or storage space but this can be dangerous if the burners aren't cool. It's obvious when a gas burner is on because you can see the blue flame. Electric cookers glow red when switched on but once they become hot enough, they turn dark. My stove has red lights indicating which burners are still hot (after they have been turned off) but not all models have these.

And when wiping up spills on glass-top electric cookers, use non-abrasive cleaners and sponges, to avoid scratching the surface.