When I first wrote about the GoSun solar cooker I was really excited; it seemed such a logical move, to take the evacuated tube developed for heating water and adapting it for cooking.
The GoSun evacuated tube lets the infrared radiation in through its special coatings and because it is a vacuum bottle, doesn't let it out. The interior gets hot really fast and stays that way as long as it is in the sun. However these tubes were not designed for this, and now one has to adapt the food to it, to fit into the little tube. I wrote in my post, when the stove was still at the kickstarter stage:
The real intuitive leap that is so important is the realization that who cares, if you can't bake a cake or do a whole roast. The whole idea behind Chinese cooking, for example, is a cuisine where everything was chopped into small pieces because fuel was scarce and expensive, and small pieces tossed into a wok cook very quickly and use very little fuel. You could cook every recipe Fuchsia Dunlop ever wrote in this thing. There is a whole world of recipes that would slide right into that tube.
I should declare here that my wife, Kelly Rossiter, wrote about for TreeHugger and MNN, and we eat a lot of chinese food, most of which we get from Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks. I thought her wonderful recipes that cook really quickly were perfect for the GoSun.
The Gosun people must have liked my first post on the stove, because they sent me one to try. They provide a "cook booklet" that is totally boring, really just vague guide. So we got out Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice and looked for suitable recipes, finding the Steamed Shicken with Chinese Sausage and Shitake Mushrooms, which we knew and loved. Vegetarians: there are three of her recipes listed in related links below that would also work.
Setting up the stove is a breeze; just open it up and aim it at the sun. The evacuated tube is made of strong, treated glass, but you still have to be careful, particularly about thermal shock, putting cold things in a hot tube. We put the chicken in and set the timer, thinking it would be less than ten minutes.
At 15 minutes it was still cool. But I looked at the reflector and realized it was covered in plaster dust (we are renovating our house) and probably that was cutting down the reflectivity. I dusted it and sure enough, 5 minutes later it was steaming away and ready.
The chicken dish looked lovely and was delicious; the texture a bit different than we were used to but it was tender and thoroughly cooked. It was time to put in the vegetable course, a bok choy dish that Kelly worked up. But we were worried; GoSun keeps warning about the danger of thermal shock caused by putting a cold tray into a hot tube, how long do we wait? We decided to put the cooker in the shade for ten minutes and went off to eat the chicken. This could be a problem, having to eat in sequence. UPDATE: Matt of GoSun informs me that they have not had a single tube bust on account of thermal shock but that they were acting out of an abundance of caution. We probably could have put the veggies straight into the tube.
The Bok Choy was perhaps a poor choice, in that leafy vegetables take up a lot of space and shrink down; after filling the tray and cooking for just about 5 minutes, there were only a couple of bites. It would have been better to do potatoes or carrots or something that doesn’t shrink so much. Or we could have stuffed more in.
I have not done a lot of solar cooking, but have assumed that it takes a long time and that there is a real learning curve. This first meal was fast, almost as fast as a stove, and the learning curve was short and flat. The GoSun could easily replace a stove in places where there is lots of sun and expensive alternatives; that's why one in six stoves are being donated to orgs in Guatemala, to help people cook in less time without smoke or walking for hours to find fuel. After using it, I can see how it might really do the job.