Living With A Four Oven Aga
We installed a four-oven Aga in August of 2001. For those not in
the know, the Aga is a unique
sort of cooking appliance; rather than having distinct heating elements
with individual controls it has a single modestly-sized burner assembly
buried in its guts which is always on. The stove itself is a
basically a huge thermal mass (and I do mean mass; the thing has to be assembled
in place and while there are no point loads you'd do well to have
an engineer or architect decide if you need to modify the floor to
support its weight) with the voids filled with vermiculite and glass
wool. Parlor tricks are done with the heat flow and exhaust gas
from the burner assembly to heat four ovens with distinct temperature
ranges: warming, simmering, baking and roasting, and two insulated hot
plates, one for boiling and one for simmering.
The typical reactions from people when they first learn about the Aga
always being always on are "Doesn't it make the kitchen hot?" and
scolding statements along the lines of "That's horribly energy
Both reactions are utterly wrong.
The Aga does reject some heat into the room; specs for the four oven
suggest it rejects about 800 watts, but from a purely qualitative
standpoint it doesn't seem to be the case. We have a passive solar home
and haven't noticed any significant increase in summer temperatures
(and in fact when seriously using the kitchen the temperature rise is
markedly less than when using a more common open burner stove) and
while the kitchen still is cool on winter mornings it's not
frigid. People tend to cozy up to the Aga, even in the summer,
although they rapidly learn of the few exterior surfaces that are too
hot to touch.
The thought that the Aga is inefficient is not supported by the
numbers; our annual propane consumption dropped 15% even with the
addition of another family member when we switched to the Aga,.
In contrast our propane consumption actually increased with the
installation of a super-swizzy Bosch 240SX LP computer-controlled
on-demand hot water heater, because we tend to use hot water during a
relatively short period of the day and the Bosch only manages an 80-odd
percent efficiency rating (It also requires a UPS so you don't suddenly
get a cold shower when the power drops, but I digress). Adding to
the overall efficiency of the Aga is the fact that it doesn't require a
vent hood, which during the winter means no cold make-up air being
introduced into the house.
What To Expect When You're
You've agonized over the color scheme for your Aga, written your check
for more than the price of some new cars and are now waiting for your
Aga to show up. You've prepared the floor to accept the Aga
(and triple-checked the location because once it's installed it is not going to move) and are
wondering what will happen when your Aga and the Aga installer(s) show
up. It goes something like this:
Here are photos of the process with our Aga
(as well as a very pregnant Jen doing her best Vanna White impression).
- Your Aga arrives in crates
- Your friendly Aga
installer inventories the 327 random bits that comprise your Aga.
- The Aga takes shape. This process involves a great deal of
rasping, filing and banging. It's important at this point to
suppress the desire to scream "What are
Do you have any idea what
this thing COST??".
The process is loud and at least as much an art as a science as befits
what is essentially a one-off, custom-built product.
- Once the supply line and vent are in place, the Aga is fired
up. The literature says that it takes 24 hours to stabilize, but
what it really means is that it takes 24 hours for you to figure
out where the temperature control on your Aga needs to be set in order
to kiss the black line on the heat indicator.
Your Aga will probably outgas a bit during the first 24 hours. We
didn't find it to be a big deal.
- When you do get your Aga stable, mark the temperature knob with
something like a Sharpie; having done so you'll be able to go from
stone cold to stable in only a few hours. If you don't have a
power vent Aga when you do cold start it you really do need to follow
the directions and let the thing idle at low power for 20 or 30
minutes. If you set it to full burner while the vent is cold the
gas column will stack and you'll get pulses of air and exhaust gases of
increasing amplitude that flood back into the burner chamber until they
eventually blow the burner and the
- Get used to setting timers. Unlike a more typical stove,
you end up doing 80% of your cooking in one of the ovens, and since the
ovens vent out the exhaust stack you don't notice when things are
getting done, much less cooked to a crisp. At least a couple of
times a year we'll reduce strips of bacon to little strips of carbon
and we once left dinner rolls in the back of the roasting oven for
several weeks; when we found them they were dinner-roll-shaped
near-massless lumps of carbon.
- Buy a spare thermocouple. We've yet to have one fail
(although the original one was replaced as part of the one-year
inspection), but we're told that not only do they fail but they
generally choose to do so at around 1800 on a Friday afternoon at the
start of a three day weekend..
- Get kitchen gauntlets, be they Aga branded or otherwise.
Because of the depth of the ovens you need something that comes up to
your elbows, otherwise you're certain to join the elite ranks of people
with Aga burns, which are somewhat nasty burns on the outside of the
arms just below the elbows as a consequence of trying to fish something
out of the back of one of the ovens.
- Join the agalovers
Yahoo! group; there's almost certain to be someone there who
has figured out whatever you're trying to figure out,.
Cooking With An Aga
About the best analog for cooking with an Aga is hearth cooking.
The heat is radiant and from all directions; the fact that the food
isn't in a moist gas stream or exposed to an electric element means
that thing don't get soggy, nor do they tend to dry out. Because
the Aga is always on it's also always ready to rock; pre-heating is a
thing of the past.
The most troubling thing for first-time Aga cooks is the notion of
"finding" the right heat. It's a simple enough concept, but the
location of the heat can move as you suck energy out of the Aga (as
might happen when preparing for a party). It's a bit like baking
bread; just as you learn over time how to tell if hydration is right,
with the Aga you learn over time where to lob stuff. to get the desired
effect. In general:
Cooking with the Aga tends to affect everything that goes on in the
kitchen. Because you don't have to hover over it all the time you
tend to prep something, toss it into the Aga, then clean up and start
the next thing. The result is that you can prep for a large party
and when you're ready to serve the kitchen is clean rather than looking
like someone just set off a tactical nuke. The ability to slow
roast helps; Thanksgiving is much easier when you start the bird off
for 30 minutes in the roasting oven the night before and then lob it
into the simmering oven overnight.
- Don't be frustrated if the only thing you can reliably do for the
first week is boil water and make toast.
- Don't get hung up on temperatures. If a recipe calls for
350F, try the top of the baking oven or the floor of the roasting oven,
possibly with the cold sheet on top. Check things about halfway
through the cooking time and adjust you expectations accordingly.
- If you're baking multiple loves of bread, rotate and swap them
about halfway through the bake. The sides of the ovens are
notably warmer than the centers, so your bread will tend to brown
unevenly if you don't.
- If you're a bread freak like Chris you can approximate a steam
oven by sticking a cast iron pan on the bottom of the roasting oven for
five minutes and then tossing a couple of ice cubes into it. Give it a
couple of minutes, then slop some boiling water into the pan and toss
in your bread.
Soup stocks in the simmering over are amazing. 'Nuff said.