Microwave cooking is a very convenient method of food preparation. Especially useful for creating quick meals or meals for one, it can also be used for defrosting and reheating. Incredibly time efficient, the microwave is of great help for the busy chef or the energy conscious consumer.
An Intro to Microwave Cooking
Microwaves cook by using a process called dielectric heating. In simple terms, microwaving is the act of passing microwave radiation through a food. Unlike conventional ovens, the microwave only heats the food, not the entire oven. That's because the food absorbs the energy of the radiation, producing a reaction that causes heat. Scores of technically fascinating books can explain this at length, but what it means to the regular user and home chef is that cooking can be done fast and efficiently.
You only need to remember a few things when microwave cooking. First, not everything is safe to put in the microwave. Anything metal, including tin foil, aluminum foil, metal utensils, and dishes should never be placed in the microwave. Doing so will cause them to overheat and spark, possibly causing a fire. Plastic wraps should be used with care as they may melt. Also keep in mind that tightly sealed containers or foods with a shell or tight skin, like eggs, can explode. Though most plastics and glass are fine, it is best to use only dishes that are marked "microwave safe."
Another thing to consider is that while great as a tool, the microwave has some cooking limitations. Browning foods, baking, and frying are best done by other methods. It's difficult, if not impossible, to create crispy fried chicken or a nicely crusted pizza in the microwave. Choose microwave cooking more for things like steaming vegetables or making popcorn. Used appropriately, the microwave can be a great help.
Creating Quick Meals
Great for creating meals on the go, the microwave is especially fabulous for cooking breakfast. Instead of running out the door with an empty belly or burning through the drive-thru on the way to work, consider cooking oatmeal from scratch or reheating buckwheat pancakes for the morning meal. Both can be done in under five minutes and are a healthy alternative to fast food or no food at all.
Of course, the microwave can be of great help for cooking dinner, too. Tossing a side dish into the microwave while a main dish cooks on the stove or in the oven is the perfect way to pull double duty in the kitchen. Potatoes can be baked, vegetables steamed, and rice cooked in minimal time.
The following is a basic guideline for creating these types of side dishes. Note that this table is intended for 700 watt microwaves. To convert this to another watt or to see more cooking times, use a conversion chart.
|medium potato||high||4 minutes|
|corn on the cob||medium||5 minutes|
|1 cup fresh veggies||medium||4 minutes|
Cooking For One
A friend to people on the move, the microwave is also useful for cooking small meals. Though it can be tempting for solo eaters to substitute snacks for meals or choose to dine out, getting comfortable with microwave cooking can prove to be money saving and better for your health.Microwave cooking is great for:
- college students
- those preparing food for small children
- individuals on a specific diet
Warming and Reheating
Perhaps the greatest use of the microwave is for reheating and warming. For re-liquidizing honey, melting butter for popcorn, heating water for tea, or warming tortillas for dinner, there are many ways the microwave can offer a quick, effortless solution. Avoiding the downfall of extra dishes and loss of time, these things can be done in minutes with the push of a button.
Thawing Food with the Microwave
Though letting foods thaw overnight in the refrigerator or under cool running water are the preferred methods for defrosting food, sometimes that isn't practical. If Chicken a la King is on the menu for dinner and the chicken accidentally got left in the freezer, the microwave offers a solution since most microwaves come with a defrost setting. Use that and be sure to rotate the food several times to ensure it comes to temperature evenly.
The main thing to remember with this method of defrosting is that the thawed food should be cooked immediately thereafter. This is especially true with raw meat or poultry. Allowing it to sit without reaching proper temperature creates a breeding ground for bacteria, which can be dangerous. To avoid any sort of contamination, simply plan on cooking the thawed food to completion shortly after it is removed from the microwave.