After all these years of wanting my own solar oven, I finally got around to constructing one. Let’s just say, it’s awesome. I don’t mean to cavalierly throw that word around, though I often show my age and do, but it’s truly awe inspiring and therefore awesome. I had my eye on the SOS Sport solar box oven for a long time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on something that I could make for free and would do essentially the same thing. Of course I have no reservations about giving my money to the Solar Oven Society because they do great work by establishing solar centers in developing countries. These centers bring solar technology to the people living in these countries, which helps alleviate hunger, deforestation, pollution, and also provides a means to pasteurize water for drinking – all things we take for granted in the first world. Now that I have experience with and I know I’ll continue to use my little cardboard solar oven, I’ll probably upgrade to the Sport for long term durability.
I chose the Fun Panel for my solar oven design because of construction simplicity, fold-ability, and good cooking reviews. It’s similar to the CooKit, but review after review indicated that the Fun Panel was a better cooker. You can see the Fun Panel design here along with other designs. The three basic solar ovens are panel, parabolic, and box cookers. There are other variations and hybridizations, but those are the three core types. The food is cooked by concentrated sunlight that is converted to heat, which is then trapped inside the cooking vessel. It cooks food similarly to a slow cooker, so anything you can cook in a slow cooker, can also be cooked in a solar oven including some baked foods.
My first cooking experiment was a simple casserole of rice, mushrooms, red peppers, eggs, cheese, and milk cooked in a glass dish. This was a success. I followed this up with hard boiled eggs, a pot of garbanzo beans, and reheated left over pizza. Today I’m cooking my first meat dish for a late lunch or early dinner.
My husband describes me as the sort of cook who can take two beans and a few grains of rice and make a full course meal. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I suppose somewhat descriptive of my cooking style. From years of living with a very constrained budget, I learned to cook with what was at hand. I’m not a gourmet chef, nor do I aspire to be one, I just cook clean and simple meals. This dish I’m making today is a perfect example of how I might throw together a meal, when it appears there is nothing in the fridge to eat.
Chicken and Vegetables
In the photos above, you can see everything that I put in the black Granite Ware roasting pan. First, I layered a bed of chopped tree collards from my garden. On this went the two chicken breasts. Then, I filled in around the chicken with quartered potatoes, carrots, celery, green onion, and garlic cloves. I topped this with a couple dollops of butter, salt & pepper, and a few fresh sage leaves from the garden.
I put the lid on the roaster and put the whole thing in an oven bag along with my new oven thermometer. I had used a meat thermometer before that only registered 220 F. Now I’ll be able to see exactly how hot my solar oven can reach. This time I’m going to try something different and put my roasting pan on a brick inside the solar cooker. This will act as a thermal mass to retain more heat and also elevate my pot and direct sunlight toward the bottom.
I put the roasting pan in the solar oven at 10:15 and within 15 minutes the temperature had already climbed to 210 F. As with a regular oven, always use mitts. I also wear my sunglasses because the reflecting light can be blinding. I rotated the oven to follow the sun every half hour or so. It’s not crucial to do this, but I think it makes sense, especially if you’re cooking something for several hours.
My thermometer almost reached 250 F, but once the sun was directly overhead, it dropped down to 225 and stayed there until I decided I to check the food. The temperature could have been higher inside the pot, but I didn’t have a way to measure it. At 1:00 I checked the chicken and vegetables. When I took off the lid, it was definitely hot enough to cause burns and the food was steaming. My meat thermometer measured the chicken breasts at 140 F and they were definitely cooked all the way through. The vegetables were also cooked. Truly amazing! I love this thing!
What next? Maybe some brownies or cornbread.