I love my microwave — it’s a trusted member of the Frazer household (unlike certain oven timers I could mention). There’s so much more to the microwave than nuking leftovers, popcorn, and frozen dinners. In spite of the somewhat dubious reputation the microwave enjoys (my mother insisted I not stare directly into the microwave as I was attempting to boil water growing up, but the metal grates you see in the front window are smaller than the wavelength of the microwaves, thus making it impossible for them to pass through), it is a busy cook’s best friend.
The New York Times picked up on this in an excellent, must-read article they wrote last year:
For any vegetable you would parboil or steam, the microwave works as well or better, and is faster. Put the vegetable in a bowl with a tiny bit of water (or sometimes none), cover and zap.
It seems that the microwave is a genius at cooking vegetables, but there are two other fantastic things about the microwave.
1. It’s faster than most other cooking methods. No oven to preheat. No heating element to warm up.
2. It’s more energy-efficient than most other heating methods. That means you save $$$.
Most of your standard cookbooks like Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker have a vegetable cooking table, and within in is a column for microwaving. Familiarize yourself with this section and remember it next time you’re grabbing vegetables for dinner. Even better, nuke your vegetables and then add a simple sauce to jazz them up. I’ll post more on that later, but if all else fails, a little salt, pepper, and butter will do the trick. Never serve steamed vegetables without some adornment. Unseasoned cooked vegetables (and particularly unseasoned over-cooked vegetables) are a major reason people don’t eat vegetables. Just say no.
In addition to the methods covered in the NYT, here are some specific uses I find the microwave excels at:
- (Pre-)Cooking potatoes — Many recipes call for cooked potatoes. Don’t mess around with a pot of boiling water. Pop open your microwave. One potato pricked with a fork, covered with a paper towel, microwaved for a few minutes, turned, microwaved again, will be cooked well enough for most uses. Then you just slice it in half and cut or flake with a fork as desired. That’s a few minutes in the microwave versus 30-60 minutes on the stove or in the oven. You do the math. I do this all the time when making potato masala, otherwise known as samosa filling. The skin should peel off pretty easily, but be careful — it’s gonna be one hot potato. One other caution: don’t peel the potato until after you’ve microwaved it. If you do, the whole potato gets a tough exterior shell that’s almost impossible to remove. Trust me — I’ve done this.
- Rice and grains — I haven’t done this very much yet, but America’s Test Kitchens Family Cookbook has a whole table on cooking grains and they heartily endorse microwaving. I tried it with wild rice but I pretty much never got the stuff cooked. I don’t blame that entirely on the microwave, though. I live at about 5,430 feet. Water boils at like 200 degrees here.
- Heating water for tea — I know I probably seem like a super-Scrooge here, but I don’t even own a teapot for boiling tea. I heat all my cups in the microwave. It’s faster, it turns itself off when the water’s done, and it saves me money on energy. I find 2:15 does the trick in my microwave. I realize, however, this method lacks the sensory appeal of the whistling kettle. I present it as an option.
- Making boiled custard/puddings — The NYT says that microwaves are great for making pudding. I haven’t done that yet, but our family’s southern Christmas treat “Boiled Custard”, which used to be made by slaving over a hot stove for hours, was converted to a microwave version that has been perfected by my Great Aunt Ethel, culinary genius. (Coincidentally, if you want to check out my Great Aunt Ethel’s cookbook, “From Pilot Knob to Main Street”, you can do so here. And yes, the boiled custard recipe is in the book.)
And I’m sure you, dear readers, have others. What ways have you used a microwave to save you time/money/sanity?