You’re not meant to, are you? It’s like the reality TV of kitchen appliances, a cliched symbol for virtue signalers to vilify while posting about the evils of screen time (or technology in general) whilst angrily stabbing away at their mobile for hours on end. If you rely on a microwave, the message goes, you’re not a cook and you don’t do nutrition. Really? Maybe if you happen to be wearing a tin foil hat. You should never put tinfoil in a microwave after all. But I can cook, I do cook and I adore unashamedly my microwave oven – it saves me money and it saves me time.
First off, let’s bust the big micro-myth. The one about them being for processed food – a pernicious foray into lazy thinking which also extends to the freezer. My freezer is actually the sole reason I can keep a wide range of fresh vegetables year round, with no waste, and my microwave ensures that they are (as they say in vintage recipe books) ‘fork tender’ within minutes, without an open pan of boiling water setting off my anxiety something rotten and wasting money on gas.
Now for me, that little combination is my privilege: my ‘thrift’ bubble is a luxurious one. Two wages, being a bit ‘careful’ so we can live in an area with great schools and parks, so we can afford a bigger place and a nice summer holiday to Devon. We’re the quirky little house with the second-hand-car and the homespun style. Not everyone has that utopia: for some, time is of the essence as they get back from work and out to college (or another job) – for others, there is minimal stove space or limited kitchen facilities. Some cook for one: their’s is a stark choice – if they want home cooked – freeze a range of fresh food or eat the same monotonous and slowly degrading meal for days on end. And for a significant but small group, thrift is a must, waste a real risk to wellbeing. The alternative to frozen or microwaved is stodgy, often salty canned meals. Good quality frozen food, and the facilities for bulk preperation and swift cooking a microwave offers, are essential to many people.
And as usual, the people stropping on about microwaves don’t think of that.
So, whether its out of necessity or preference, to me there is no shame in microwave cooking. Here’s my list of top microwave cooking tips and hacks, based on what I use mine for:
Steaming Frozen Veg: I portion it into a pyrex jug, put in about an egg cup of cold water, cover with a silicone microwave cover (cheaper than wrap long term, less messy and less slippy than a saucer) and cook on high for 90 seconds. Then I stir and cook for another 60. The veg is almost always al-dente and ready to serve.
‘Boiling’ Rice: I found this tip on Pinterest a while back. Can’t find the original pin but for me it goes thus: use a flat-bottomed Pyrex or plastic tub. Put your dry rice into it in a flat layer. Rinse it 2 or 3 times, discarding the water. Then, pour over cold water until it is 2 – 2.5cm over the rice – the easy way to measure this is that your finger tip to your small finger joint is about that distance! Cover and vent, then microwave on high for 10-12 minutes. Then leave it with the lid on for a further 2-4 minutes; by this time, the water will be absorbed and the rice cooked, you just need to fluff it with a fork (your oven and finger size might vary from mine, so this one needs some trial-and-error … but once it works, it works!).
Rescuing Biscuits: Are they bendy but still edible? Put them on a paper towel on a microwaveable plate, don’t cover, blitz in the microwave for 30 seconds. Leave them until cool on the plate. They should have dried out! This also works on crisps.
Softening Butter: 20 seconds on low does the trick for me!
Melting Chocolate: The trick here is to do it on low/medium, 10 seconds at a time. Give it a stir in between blasts … much less hassle than a bain Marie.
Popcorn: You don’t have to buy expensive microwave popcorn if you have a sturdy container with a vented lid … or a paper bag! Just roll and twist the top of the bag as tape could burn and staples are a no-no. About a couple of dessert spoonfuls of popcorn kernels in a bag or lidded microwave tub cooks on high in 3 minutes. Cheap, healthier than crisps and always popular with kids, top with butter, salt or a dusting of sugar and spice – or add to a rocky road or refrigerator cake.
Crispy Bacon: place rashers of good quality streaky bacon on paper towel on a microwave safe plate. Cook on high for 3-5 minutes (depending on power). The bacon will cook dry and crispy and the grease will enter the towel, so no nasty grill pan to scrub!
Scrambled Eggs: break two eggs into a mug and pop in the microwave for 2 minutes, stirring half way through. A very quick breakfast!
Porridge: Oats always carry microwave instructions. Use a nice big bowl as they boil vigorously! I usually find 2-3 minutes with a stir half way is enough time.
Forgotten to soak your pulses overnight? This has happened to me many times! Dry beans and chickpeas require better planning skills than I possess. The solution is to cover them with water and microwave them for 5-10 minutes, in 2 or 3 minute bursts, stirring between. This doesn’t cook them entirely but softens them ready for cooking the usual way (as an overnight soak would).
Cooking Fish: In a paper parcel or microwave container, fish cooks in 5-10 minutes. Much less mess and smell to deal with afterwards. There are even fancy recipes for ‘en papillote’ versions out there.
Juicing Citrus: Any citrus fruit warmed for 20 seconds in the microwave with yield more juice. For added effect, roll the fruit on the work top with your hand before squeezing.
Poached Egg: if you break an egg into a small dish and microwave it for just 30 seconds, it will ‘poach’. Many people insist you break the yolk – I don’t always and in many years have only had a yolk pop once!
Peeling Tomatoes: Cut an x in the bottom and microwave for a minute, this makes them peelable in a similar way to blanching.
As well as these cooking tips, microwave heating is also a great sterilisation method! I used it for my pumps and bottles when the Childe was tiny – you can also zap damp microwave sponges and dishwashing cloths/brushes (provided they are metal-free) for a minute or two to kill bacteria. It’s chemical-free as the sudden, intense heat is the anti-bacterial agent. There are plenty of other non-edible applications for microwaves – my favourite hack (at the moment, with my aches and pains) is an instant heat pack. I fill an old (clean) sock with rice, knot the top, add some drops of scented oil and microwave until warm.
My microwave gets used daily, as you can see – in spite of the fact I’m most definitely not a regular eater of ‘ready meals’. There really is so much more to this popular kitchen appliance!
What appliances do you rely on and would you like any tip round ups for them? Let me know in the comments!