Introduction to Microwave Cooking

Follow-up post with recipes

Oleh Girl Yael has an electricity-challenged apartment, and her only reliable cooking appliance is her microwave. I dedicate this post to her.

Almost any food can be cooked in the microwave, once you learn the techniques.

I’m not an engineer so forgive me if my explanation of how the microwave works is not technically accurate. It’s meant for the beginning home cook.

Microwaves work by radiating microwave energy into food. Microwave energy only heats up the moisture in the food, so dried foods may burn or explode. (I tried microwaving dried apricots once.) The waves pass through glass, ceramic, plastic and paper so these materials do not get hot, except via the food. Metal, however, deflects microwaves. You can keep one metal spoon in your food without causing damage, but not two, and I have read about a judicial use of foil.

Because microwaves only heat moisture they are more efficient than conventional ovens, which heat up everything in the vicinity. As the food cooks, the utensil and microwave get warm and even hot. But most of your precious energy dollars/shekalim go right into the food.

Microwaves heat food from the outside in, and it can take a while for the heat to penetrate. Food should be cooked in shallow utensils or stirred frequently. If there is no rotating turntable, food must be turned manually. Foods such as chicken parts must be turned from top to bottom and moved from the edge of the pan to the center and vice versa. Individual items like potatoes or cookies should be arranged in a circle.

Microwave power setting options are delineated in percents or High-Medium-Low. But the microwave really only has two settings, off and on. If you choose the highest power setting, High or 100%, the microwaves penetrate the food continuously. If your microwave has 1000 watts of power, you will be using all of those watts for the entire cooking time.

Microwaves using higher wattage cook food faster, but those with lower wattage work equally well. Whatever the wattage or setting, check to make sure food is cooked through. This applies to conventional methods of cooking as well.

If you choose the 80% setting, the microwave operates for 80% of the time and pauses for 20%. The food cooks more slowly and gently, because microwaved food continues to cook even when the microwaves have stopped waving. But I never use any setting other than High. If the food is delicate, like eggs, I check frequently and take the food out just before the egg is solid. In general food needs to be removed when it is slightly underdone, or it will overcook. Eggs will get rubbery.

I prefer a slow defrost in the refrigerator to the microwave, which warms up food as it defrosts. This attracts bacteria, so microwave-defrosted food must be cooked immediately. And why turn on an additional appliance? Defrosting the food in the fridge keeps the refrigerated food cold and saves on your electric bill.

Yael wanted some recipes, but they will have to wait until after Yom Tov (bli neder; I know I’ve been bad about promised posts). You can cook all manners of vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, legumes and grains in the microwave. You can even bake some items, especially if they are moist. You do need to acquire non-metal utensils that fit (and rotate) in your microwave. Chances are you already have glass bowls and tableware that are microwave-safe. When shopping, choose utensils that are safe for both microwave and conventional ovens.
Follow-up post with recipes

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