A few weeks ago, there was much excitement at The Madhouse when we received a Tefal OptiGrill to roadtest. I had a look at what it could do and was really impressed by its versatility - its main selling point is cooking steaks to perfection, but you can also use it for all sorts of other things like fish, chicken, burgers, sausages, even bacon or toasted sandwiches. I couldn't wait to start playing with it, but then Madhouse Daddy broke a tooth and got a really painful abcess so we were limited to soft foods that didn't need much chewing. Not fair !
His gnashers are back in action now though so this week, I've been using the OptiGrill almost non stop. The only downside that I can see is that it's quite a hefty machine so you will need lots of worktop space.
I read through the (mercifully short) instruction manual and it's actually dead easy to use. Inside the OptiGrill are two ridged, non-stick cooking plates that snap in and out. They are really easy to wash clean with a soft sponge and a bit of washing-up liquid but they are also dishwasher safe.
There is also a dishwasher-safe drip tray with collects up all the fat and grease that runs off your food as it cooks on the slanted cooking plates. I love this feature because it helps reduce the fat content of your food, as well as allowing you to cook with zero oil added, which is great if you are watching your waistline or just want to make your food that bit healthier with no extra fuss.
The most impressive feature of all is the automatic cooking technology though. After plugging in the machine and turning it on, you select the programme (Burger, Chicken, Bacon, Sausage, Red Meat, Fish, Defrost or Manual) and push OK. The big LED light starts flashing a lovely lilac colour to show that it's preheating. Once it stops flashing, you're ready to add your food. When you close the OptiGrill, it automatically detects the thickness of your food and starts cooking. The light changes colour during the cooking process to show the degree of cooking that it has reached (rare, medium, well-done) and there is also a beep to inform you that it has reached the next degree of cooking.
The first thing I wanted to try was steak so I slapped two big slabs of meat on the grill, sprinkled over some salt and pepper and shut the grill. It's always slightly stressful cooking steak because you never really know how long to leave it to cook and if everyone wants their steak cooked to a different degree, you can be running back and forth to the hob delivering plates to the table like an over-worked waitress asking if it's cooked enough ! The OptiGrill takes all the guesswork out and, as you don't have to worry about it burning or sticking or need to flip over the meat halfway through cooking, you're free to get on with other jobs in the kitchen, while keeping an eye on the colour of the LED and listening out for the beeps.
I've always wanted to recreate stripy grilled meat because I think it looks really cool and appetising so I was very impressed with the visual appearance. The proof of the pudding is in the eating though and again, we were all really impressed. As it cooks both sides of the meat at once, it cooks more quickly than in a frying pan and we all thought the steak was perfectly cooked to our tastes (two medium and three well done) and extra tender and juicy.
For our next meal, I wanted to try it with poultry so I used some turkey breast fillets. These were quite thin so I was worried that they would come out a bit dry but again, the OptiGrill worked its magic and produced perfectly cooked, moist and juicy meat. As the meat comes out so juicy, you don't need to use calorie-laden creamy sauces or condiments to perk it up so it really is a great piece of equipment for making your mealtimes healthier. All I've been using is a sprinkle of herbs and spices for extra zing.
I tried fish too, opting for some salmon steaks that I thought would be problematic because they were much thicker on one end than on the other. I sprinkled over some sumac and lime juice and closed the machine.
I loved watching all the fat drain off and the salmon was again cooked perfectly - moist and tender underneath with a slightly crispy surface. As I wanted to make sure the thickest parts were perfectly cooked through (and I knew the automatic sensor would have trouble detecting the big differences in thickness), I opened the grill a few times to keep an eye on it for the last few minutes of cooking time.
As I had a couple of leftover baked potatoes, I decided to slice them into thick wedges and warm them up on the OptiGrill. They were OK but not as successful as I'd hoped - I'd sprinkled them with herbs and spices but with hindsight, I think they needed a drizzle of oil too.
There are still so many more things I want to try out in the OptiGrill - toasted cheese sandwiches, king prawns, red and green peppers and chicken, onion and pepper kebab skewers, just for starters. I thought it would be something that I would use every once in a while when we fancied steak and that would spend the rest of the time gathering dust in the back of the cupboard, but I've used it for almost every meal this week. It's certainly more than just a flash-in-the-pan gadget.
The OptiGrill is one of those things that I've seen in the adverts but that I thought would never live up to the claims. I also thought it would be complicated to get to grips with but I was totally wrong on both counts. I love it because it cooks food to perfection with little input so I can multitask while preparing dinner, and also because it makes my food healthier; Madhouse Daddy loves it because he can continue to be the BBQ King in the middle of winter !; the Madhouse kids love it because they think stripy food "like in restaurants" is really cool ! I also love the fact that it is so easy to keep clean.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £149.99
for more information : http://www.tefal.co.uk/optigrill
Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.