We were lured to the home of what is likely Brooklyn’s only Healsio oven in hopes of witnessing the culinary equivalent of a unicorn: oil-free frying.
“It’s amazing,” insisted Yohei Ishii, an online gaming executive who lugged the machine—made by Sharp—back from Japan to the apartment he and his wife, Tomomi, share in the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower.
Unavailable in the States but common in Japan, the countertop, quick-cooking gadget’s name is sometimes translated as “water oven.” Unlike a microwave, which heats the water inside your food, the Healsio blasts food with steam, a little like the way a commercial bread oven can add water to the air to improve a loaf ’s crustiness. In fact home bread-baking geeks admit to coveting the gizmos in online chat rooms.
But Yohei says the Healsio’s main magic is with meat: it roasts to perfection and crisps skin without added oil. Your tonkatsu (breaded cutlets) get crunchy-crispy and your buta (pork belly) develops a burnished browning—and much faster than it would in an American oven, or so averred Yohei, with the sincere insistence of a missionary explaining the afterlife.
These days Healsios connect to the Internet and have color LCD screens for recipe display. Yohei’s is an older model but even sans Wi-Fi connectivity, it cost $700—not counting $175 for an electrical outlet converter that is itself the size of a small appliance, plus $20 at Home Depot to retrofit the kitchen’s existing under-the-counter microwave shelf to pull out the Healsio when it’s on.
“I realized,” says Yohei, recalling a moment of enlightenment, “that the steam has to escape out the top.”
To demonstrate the deity, he reheated a day-old slice of pizza. Indeed it emerged chewy and toasty, and it didn’t go hard as a rock after a few minutes, microwave-style.
Next we cut a pork belly in two, put half in the Healsio on “roast,” and the other in the conventional oven. Less than an hour later, the Healsio slab was suberb: Its surface browned, the fat perfectly rendered, the meat incredibly moist. The oven belly, on the other hand, was far from done, and when it finally finished cooking, it wasn’t nearly as succulent or as well-browned—though it should be said that due to user error, aka our utter absorption in the Asian apparatus, it was slightly overdone.
Lastly we cooked up some of that crispy un-fried fried chicken we’d originally been promised. Funnily, it was the only flop—the panko coating became gummy. But a filet of fish in parchment with udon noodles, mushrooms and green tea broth emerged steamed to perfection, and a handful of chile peppers were truly blackened and charred as if they’d been grilled over fire. Still, the simplicity of old-fangled technology retains its appeal. “I wish I had a toaster oven,” mused Yoheii to himself while pouring in water and moving shelves. “It’s so easy, you just put the thing in and push the button.”
Photo credit: Walker Esner.