Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Living With An Aga Part 1 - How does it work?

Last week I asked on Twitter if anyone would be interested in a post on Aga cooking and there were a few tentative cries of 'yes please'. I need little encouragement to wax lyrical about one of my favourite subjects so here is the first in a two part series about living with an Aga.

I remember when we started planning the kitchen at the 'new house' (though it's obviously not new now) and we first looked at Agas. I knew little about them, other than that they featured heavily in horsey books from my childhood and later in life, my Jilly Cooper favourites, and they seemed to be used to impart a feeling of warmth, solidity and cosiness. This appealed to me A LOT, as you can imagine.

I started to do my research and was immediately captivated. Aga cooking is a completely new way of cooking, I read, an Aga makes a house a home, once you've had one, you'll never want to be without one. I also found lots of videos like the one below which romanticised the notion somewhat further and before I knew it, owning an Aga became my new obsession.

I have to say that I've been through periods of being completely and utterly in love with my Aga (winter mornings, winter evenings, Christmas catering etc) and times when I'm a little less enamoured (when we get an energy bill, hot summer days) but on the whole I am definitely a convert. It still feels like a treat to own such a classic, unique addition to the kitchen even 18 months down the line. I never tire of the all-encompassing warmth that envelops me when I open the kitchen door and I just love its silent, ever-present comfort, not to mention the gravitational pull that attracts my bottom every time I have a cup in my hand. I feel like I'm letting it down by not having the cupboards on either side oiled, the granite worktops not fitted, the back not tiled and no beautiful surround in situ. All in good time, my beauty!

Let's not beat about the bush - they're not cheap. To buy or to run. They're not fantastically friendly to the environment either. So they do come with an element of financial burden and guilt attached, I'm afraid. That said, they are made from 70% recycled cast iron and an Aga is 90% recyclable so, you know, there's that.

I plumped for a 4 oven electric Aga in Pewter - choosing the colour was one of the hardest decisions, I must admit, just look at the range available! Pewter is gorgeous and classy but given my choice again, I'd be seriously drawn to the duck egg blue, despite the fact that it wouldn't match anything in my kitchen. I'm told by Aga engineers that cream and black are the most common but it's a statement piece after all, why not be bold?

How does it work?

The traditional Aga is on ALL of the time. Newer models are programmable to be on and off when you want them and are even controlled by an iPhone app. Older models can be run on oil, gas or solid fuel, though I believe these are tear-inducingly expensive to run, as well as needing to be switched off and serviced twice a year (perish the thought)

There are no knobs or dials to adjust the temperature, just a single thermostat which you set up and forget about. There is a temperature gauge above the Roasting Oven with three ranges - the mid range means that you are able to cook and when the mercury sits on the black line, you are at optimum temperature. You can cook within the range, above or below, but expect it to take more or less time than it should.

The Aga is essentially a huge lump of cast iron. This is why they arrive in pieces and are assembled in your kitchen by Aga engineers - they are impossible to move. Cast iron holds heat incredibly well and, therefore, the Aga cooks with radiant, indirect heat. Electric ovens have an element on either side and perhaps a fan at the back, gas ovens have a single row of flames at the back. But the Aga radiates heat from the cast iron sides, top, bottom and back of each oven, so the heat comes from every direction. The cast iron also means that it takes a long time to heat up and a long time to cool down, which is worth bearing in mind. Hot air rises, so each oven is hotter at the top than the bottom and also slightly hotter on the side which is nearest the heat source (bang in the middle)

Apologies for the terrible picture, it was the best I could do with a huge kitchen island in the way!

All Agas have two hotplates -

The Boiling Plate
The hottest domestic heat source known to humankind - quite simply, it boils. Very quickly. This is where you boil your kettle, make toast, sear steaks etc.

The Simmering Plate
About half the temperature of the Boiling Plate - it simmers. If you put something on here cold, it will cook gently, so it's perfect for making sauces, scrambled eggs etc. If you start something off on the Boiling Plate and transfer it to the Simmering Plate, it will continue to boil (albeit less rapidly) You can also make toasted sandwiches by placing the sandwich directly onto the plate, on top of a piece of specially shaped Bake-O-Glide (more on which in Part 2) and fat free fried eggs the same way. Welsh cakes, American style pancakes and popcorn are also cooked here.

The Warming Plate
On the far left is this useful area, a flat, hot surface which is used for keeping food and dishes warm, amongst other things (more on which later)

There are four ovens, which from the outside look rather small but are actually cavernous within - capable of holding a 28lb turkey in fact. These are;

The Roasting Oven (all Aga models)
The hottest oven, this runs at roughly 240-260 degrees. As you might have guessed, this is where you roast. You can also cook pizzas in here (on the oven floor if crispy bases are your thing) and ready meals (on the bottom set of runners) which is handy to know when you are 8 months pregnant and have just started, rather nervously, using your first Aga. Agas don't have a grill, so the top (ceiling) of the roasting oven is your grill, the floor can be used for frying

The Baking Oven (3 or 4 oven models)
Roughly three-quarters of the temperature of the Roasting Oven. Hotter at the top (so bake biscuits and sponges here) and slightly cooler lower down

The Roasting and Baking Ovens have runners down each side that you hang either your grid shelf on or your Aga roasting/baking trays. I need to sweep this oven out, clearly

The Simmering Oven (all Aga models)
My most used oven and the reason I knew an Aga was perfect for me. Basically it's an integral slow cooker, running at about 115-135 degrees. I use it for soups, stews and casseroles as well as slow roasting (starting with half an hour in the Roasting Oven and transferring) pot roasting, cooking rice and root veg and making rice puddings

The Warming Oven (4 oven models)
This oven is below boiling point, about 70-90 degrees, so it doesn't actively cook - this is why you hear stories about farmers reviving sick lambs in it! Hot food can be kept warm in here until you are ready for it (including takeaway food) and it also comes in handy for things like drying your sheepskin slippers after they've been through the wash

That's it for Part 1, I hope it was interesting. Part 2 will go into a bit more detail about the imprecise art of Aga cooking and the other uses for the Aga.


  1. I have NEVER understood aga's, and have always been intrigued by them, so thank you for this post. However, I now resent my crusty old oven even more than I did before, humph.

    Charlotte xx

  2. Ours was a sky blue colour when we moved in so got it reconditioned and it is now cream. We only have the 2 ovens and 15 years later, we still manage to incinerate things on a regular basis because you can't smell when something is burning!
    We usually turn ours off in the summer to save some ££ and it makes the house too hot!
    There is something about an Aga though - I do love it! xx
    Escape to the Westcountry

    1. I agree, it can be WAY too hot in the summer! We have ours on a timer so it switches off overnight but it is still really hot!

  3. I used to see them in the internet thinking they were different looking ovens and now I know they are different in everything not just the look :o
    thank you for educating me ,
    this is very helpful <3


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