Science Wednesday….Solar Cooking

Wow…WOW, wow! Nothing like tackling the rocket fuel of solar cookers! I really had to hold onto everything, simply everything I have gathered as knowledge and experience in cooking with the sun to take on this puppy…. Wow! After some relatively simple steps and simple tools, this girl assembled the cooker. Yep, all by myself…(but then again, I like taking apart toasters and stuff). Kind of like putting together a bicycle, but no fast moving parts, LOL! It weighs a total of about 40 pounds so it is not necessarily “portable” as it stands. One can move it if you break it down into pieces.

\After assembling, I thought I would “test drive” this one with something simple, maybe quinoa or rice. I don’t eat grains anymore, so I couldn’t find anything in the cupboard. What I did have on hand though, was a partly frozen pork loin slowly defrosting in my kitchen. “Well, why not?” I thought to myself. So, I grabbed a metal pot, put in some olive oil and plopped in the pork loin, ice-cold and all. I put the pot, covered, onto the parabolic at 11:30 a.m. I eyeballed the adjustment of the reflectors and walked away.I came back to check on how things were cooking in 10 minutes, and I smelled strongly seared meat. OMG! I grabbed my hot pad, opened the lid and spattered oil all over the reflective face of the parabolic. Not good! I turned the meat over, closed the lid and went to get a bucket of suds and a rag. I washed off the reflectors (which are cool to the touch), making sure I stayed clear of the collective heating beam of light to protect my eyes and my hands.

I first covered the pot with a Pyrex tempered, clear lid with some kind of “heat proof” handle on the lid. WRONG! This product is oven proof for sure, but at temps higher than 500, it began to smoke and began to melt!Those were only the beginning of my many lessons today. Temperatures can get a scorching 660F (350C) or even higher. I have never experienced such a heat exchange from the sun! The 4 other models of solar ovens and cookers I own seem like dinosaurs in comparison. The light is so bright you can scorch your retinas…yep, I got “blinded” a couple of times by not being careful enough where I was looking…avert your eyes…yep, got that!I succeeded in making “pulled pork” from a half-frozen piece of meat in a little under 3 hours. A recipe which usually takes all day using electricity in a slow cooker…wow! My key lessons for today: Lesson #1 – wear protective eyeglasses at all times and use sleeved pot holders; Lesson #2 – the concentrated light can and will burn you; Lesson #3 – only use high quality metal pots and lids. No plastic handles or anything because they WILL melt off; Lesson #4 – take the pot OFF the cooker to add things to it or to stir; Lesson #5 – boiling temps will reach well above 500F and will scorch or burn you when you open the pot lid.What an experiment! I am such a sucker for punishment that I am going to use it again…tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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