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My mum has a weakness for kitchen gadgets and new products, so the arrival of these microwave steam cooking bags into our local Poundworld store was like nectar to a bee. Being a kind mother she brought me a pack of my own to try. They are available in a standard size bag pack of 25 or as large bags in a packet of 15. The standard size bags are said to hold 1-2 portions and the large 3-6. I tried the large size only.
Quickasteam is descibed as a "microwave steam cooking system" which makes it seem more elaborate than it is. The product consists of a number of single use bags in which you place your prepared vegetables/meat/fish. The bags are then sealed and popped in the microwave to cook. The idea is that the bags work by "using the combination of the microwave and pressure steaming". The packet says that using the bags could save up 75% in time and energy compared to conventional steaming or boiling methods. Steaming is regarded as being a healthy way of cooking because it preserves many vitamins and minerals but it can take a relatively longer time in my experience. For this reason I don't use my conventional metal or electric steamers as often as I could do. So a method of steaming in super quick time really appealed to me.
A basic table of suggested cooking times is included on the back of the packet along with a short version of the usage instructions. A slightly fuller guide is included inside on a slip of paper. The instructions are very simple and easy to follow. You prepare the food as you normally would - which includes chopping the vegetables into even sized pieces "if appropriate". The food is placed in the bag then you fold the top of the bag down by at least 3cm before sealing. [Sealing involves pulling off a seal strip and firming it down. No additional adhesive is required.] Then you cook the food using the timing guidelines enclosed - more of these in a moment. Once the cooking time is up you are instructed to leave the bag to rest for 20-30 seconds before opening to allow the built up steam to escape. The bag can then be opened and the food is ready. Butter or spices can be added to the bag before cooking too.
EASE OF USE
I found using the bags very easy at first. They sealed properly on the first attempt and I thought they were easy to open. However my mum who has arthritis found removing the self-adhesive sealing strip awkward and fiddly which may be worth bearing in mind.
My problem was in using the cooking chart. The instructions given are for 100g servings in many cases. I wanted to cook a larger quantity than that - these are the large size bags after all. The NHS recommends that a portion of veg that could count towards your 5 a day should weigh at least 80g. So the guidelines here for several types of veg are good for a little over one serving. I know from previous experience at microwave cooking that cooking twice the amount of something isn't always as simple as cooking it for twice as long. The margin for error is smaller than with other cooking methods - I think food can go from undercooked to overdone in just a minute or two. So I would have welcomed some guidance on cooking the larger portions. The lack of information wouldn't be such a problem if the bags were not single use. When I made a guess as to how long my green beans would cook, I had to open the bag to test them. They were not quite done so I thought I would just reseal the bag and continue but I couldn't get it to stick properly again. So I ended up using a second bag to finish the cooking. No doubt with trial and error I could make up my own timing chart but I do think more useful information could be provided. The instructions are for an 850 watt microwave so using them with a different wattage oven could also complicate working out the timings.
* Peas - Suggested cooking time by "conventional hob" = 8-10 mins.
Quickasteam time =1.5 mins for fresh and 2 mins from frozen. [100g].
The peas cooked perfectly in the given time and preserved their lovely fresh flavour, especially those straight from the garden.
*Sliced runner beans - Suggested conventional time = 8-10 mins.
Quickasteam time =1.5 mins for fresh and 2 mins from frozen. [100g]
These were too hard for me and needed longer cooking - I would say about 4 minutes for fresh ones which is still quick.
* Broccoli - Conventional cooking time = 8-10 mins.
Quickasteam time = 2 mins from frozen. [100g]
I thought these cooked well in the given time and that they held their colour, shape and texture better than when I cooked them in the microwave in the usual way. [As the stalk part of each floret cooked at the same time as the rest of it.] I found that 300g took around 5 mins to cook.
* Fresh carrots, sliced. Suggested conventional time = 10-15 mins.
Quickasteam time = 2 mins. [175g]
These were my favourite veg cooked this way. They tasted delicious, full of flavour and natural sweetness. My dad thought they were the best he had ever tasted!
* Diced chicken breast. Suggested conventional time = 10-15 mins.
Quickasteam time = 2 mins if fresh. [100g]
I owe my mum for trying this as I am a vegetarian! She was happy that the poultry was properly cooked through after the 2 mins and felt it had a paticularly moist rather than dried out texture.
After cooking had finished I was pleased that opening the bag was easy and that there wasn't a huge rush of steam coming at me. The bag is still hot though so you need to handle it carefully.
You can see from the above that the bags live up to their promise to deliver good taste in a faster way. I found them hassle- free to use and they certainly save on washing up. But since my initial flurry of experimenting with them when they were first bought, they have sat ignored in my kitchen cupboard. The reason? I am interested in recycling and I try not to buy things that will add to my rubbish bin. I am not comfortable about relying on something so disposable. They do save some cooking energy of course and you may feel this mitigates their adding to landfill. They are not an essential piece of kit but yes, they do what they say they will. The cooking charts could do with being a little more extensive but at £1 they are cheap if you fancy trying them for yourself.
Available for £1 in Poundworld, Poundland [and 99p in the 99P store!] Also available online for the same price but don't forget to check postage and packaging fees. They can also be bought for a bit more in Tesco, Morrisons and Wilkinsons now.
[This review previously appeared on Ciao, and has been edited and updated for Dooyoo.]