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A COMBI-OVEN is one of the most versatile items of prime cooking equipment, so any pub kitchen with ambitions for good and profitable food should be...

A COMBI-OVEN is one of the most versatile items of prime cooking equipment, so any pub kitchen with ambitions for good and profitable food should be thinking about installing one.

Its main use in the pub kitchen is to steam, bake, roast, slow braise. It will also regenerate chilled pre-cooked foods such as vegetables and produce designer breads from frozen.

In fact, there are two very different types of oven seen in pub kitchens using the same name of combi-oven.

Microwave-based ovens are described as combi-ovens when they combine microwave energy with convection heat and grilling. A microwave combi-oven can successfully cook from scratch, while a microwave-only oven is mainly used for re-heating.

The popular understanding of a combi-oven, without the word microwave attached to its description, is a medium to large size conventional oven that combines just two functions - steam and convection heat.

The combi-oven with convection heat and steam has some appealing features for a pub kitchen. Most pub menus feature a high proportion of roast meats - chickens for midweek and joints at the weekend. Dry roasting of meat is the traditional way of cooking, but has a huge financial disadvantage for a pub.

Dry roasting drives out the moisture in a joint of meat - up to 25 per cent of the uncooked weight - which means hiking up the menu price or accepting a lower profit margin through the shrinkage.

By adding a modest amount of steam during the roasting process, the combi-oven compensates for the moisture loss dry roasting would bring, so maintaining profit margins.

A further advantage of roasting meat in a combi-oven is that the steam acts to tenderise the meat.

Both the convection heat and the steam injection are completely controlled, either by the chef or on more advanced combi-ovens through computer programmes and heat sensors in food being cooked.

There are some foods which want dry heat to cook, such as roast potatoes or pastry, in which case the combi-oven can be set to cook in heat-only mode. Vegetables such as broccoli, and fish such as salmon, cook better in steam only to retain colour, taste and texture. Because a combi-oven is so programmable, the times during cooking when there is dry heat only, steam only or a fractional mix of the two is easy to set.

Combi-ovens can be a bit daunting to work at first, but suppliers are often able to offer training for chefs on how to get the maximum benefit from one. To help with high demand in busy service times, side-vegetables can be pre-cooked in the combi-oven, safely chilled in a blast chiller then regenerated in steam mode to order, giving the taste of fresh-cooked vegetables.

Size to suit your kitchen

While big pub operations need big combi-ovens, there are small to mid-size combi-ovens now available.

The few technical bits related to the installation of a combi-oven are that it will need plumbing in, three-phase electricity and a water treatment system to prevent limescale build-up damaging the internal water system. Manufacturers will be able to advise you on these points. Chain pubs have long recognised the benefit in food quality, speed of cooking and bottom line contribution a combi-oven makes to a pub. Independently-owned food-led pubs should too.

CESA, the Equipment Suppliers Association, has buying and using information on every aspect of kitchen equipment. Learn more and find a supplier by visiting

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