"If you open the lid, you can kiss your vapor seal goodbye."
When Alaina suggested I test-drive a special "Vapor Seal" pot that had found its way to Serious Eats World Headquarters, my first reaction was skepticism. I knew some serious product testing lay ahead of me. While the 360 Cookware saucepan I was given looked like any well-made pot--nicely buffed stainless steel, an ergonomic handle, the works--its instructional booklet and introductory DVD made clear that this was no normal kitchen gadget.
Fifteen minutes into the DVD, I figured I had it down: you throw stuff into the pot, let the cooking process get underway, and spin the pot's lid so that the rising steam forms a so-called "vapor seal." Theoretically, once you achieve the seal, you're free to turn off the stove and let your food cook itself in its vapor, combining the health benefits of steaming while saving some dough on the electric bill (if you're not using gas).
Armed with chicken and broccoli tossed in an Asian marinade, I tackled the new technique with a healthy dose of confidence. But nearly twenty minutes later, there was no steam--and thus no vapor seal. I had only a mess at the bottom of the pot. Maybe I should have watched more of the DVD.
So I tried again. With fajita vegetables chopped and ready, I added a bit of water to coerce some steam action. If all went well, it should help me achieve the Vapor Seal more quickly.
My idea did work, but not perfectly. Though I was never sure whether I achieved the vapor seal, the vegetables did retain more flavor than usual. The caveat? Not being able to see how your food is progressing--if you open the lid, you can kiss your vapor seal goodbye.
360 Cookware makes a beautiful pot, which can be just as easily used for non-vapor cooking, but the Vapor Seal is more difficult to achieve than they'd like to let on. Many vegetables are listed in a guide that indicates cook times, but other common choices are left out--making for a lot of guesswork.
Since vapor cooking can also be achieved by wrapping dough around any pot--as chefs schooled in Indian methods might know--I'd advocate trying DIY vapor cooking before investing in a hefty gadget like this. The method, specific to the making of a classic Biryani (that's chicken and rice for you street food aficionados), involves sealing the lid of any pot with simple dough--just press it into the rim and let your meal cook for 15 to 20 minutes, on the stove or in a pre-heated oven.