The 13 year old has a friend for a sleepover and I’ve just made their dinner in the microwave. Well… sort of. I often make a tomato sauce in the microwave when I just have a very small amount to make- like tonight, when I needed just a smear for the pizza I was making them. Then for dessert, I made them an ‘instant’ caramel sauce in the microwave, to put over their ice-cream.
I didn’t own a microwave until my early 30s. Like many other food lovers, I thought they were something that old people used; old people who didn’t really like food and didn’t mind if it was overcooked and mushy. Whose teeth and digestive systems probably welcome it. Or bogans who lived on TV dinners. And of course, microwaves also zapped dangerous radioactive waves into our food.
While there are some things I’d never cook in a microwave, these days, I’m much more relaxed about using a microwave. And, I’m pleased to see that one of my foodie heroes, Harold McGee is balanced about their use. About microwaves, he says : “Microwaves are not a form of food irradiation or radioactivity.” (phew!) “They do not cook food from the inside out. Microwaves ovens heat more quickly and efficiently than other appliance because the radio wave energy penetrates and is absorbed directly by the food, not by the air or the container.”
McGee says that ‘Reasonably good candies can be made in the microwave oven which gives the cook less hands -on control but cooks syrups more rapidly and evenly without the worry of scorching the pan bottom. ” Something I discovered after burning umpteen loads of sugar. My other discovery was nuts. Put raw nuts on a plate, sprinkle with salt (0r sugar or whatever) and zap in the microwave for a minute, take them out and they’ll be ..soft and soggy. But leave for another minute or so and they miraculously become crunchy and roasted in flavour.
McGee even recommends microwaving vegetables as ‘an efficient and rapid way to cook a small amount of vegetables’, preserving their vitamins ‘better than boiling or steaming.”
He also suggest the microwave as a way to pasteurize egg yolk when making mayonnaise (in case you’re pregnant) . “1 egg yolk in small bowl with 1 tbsp each of lemon & water, microwave on high til close to boil. Remove, whisk, repeat, remove and stir again with clean fork until luke warm, then start whisking in oil.”
My tomato sauce goes like this; very finely dice onion (and garlic if you like), put in a bowl (I prefer to use a ceramic or glass one) with a glug of olive oil and zap for 2 minutes. Take out, stir and zap again for another minute or so (depends on your microwave). Add tomato passata, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt and a tbsp of tomato paste. Zap again for a minute or two.Take out and rest for a minute, e voila.
I have another recipe for microwave salted caramels on this site, and tonight, made a caramel sauce. I realised when beginning to make it that i had no butter, so I simply zapped brown sugar (take out stir, rezap) then added cream and microwaved for another minute and whisked. It was an experiment and I was sort of surprised that it worked without the butter, making a good (but very sweet) caramel sauce the boys loved on their ice-cream.
I also heat soup in the microwave as well as other leftovers. It’s purely for efficiency sake and not having to wash up another bowl. By the way, you CAN use foil in the microwave, McGee says. Just need to make sure you leave enough room between it and the walls of the microwave.
And you mightn’t realise it, but you might have also tasted microwave sponge cake in some of the finer restaurants recently. (It has larger holes than a traditional sponge and actually looks and has a texture more sponge like than light sponge cake).
I suspect in the future chefs will start to experiment even more with the unique cooking properties of the microwave.
For me, right now, it has a place in the kitchen.What it may morph into in the future and how it might be used remains to be seen but I think it’s just small-minded to dismiss it entirely.