Microwaves are useful kitchen appliances because they offer a simple way to get the job done for a meal. They can quickly reheat, steam, or thaw something out with the push of a button. This simplicity has led to them being used as a bit of a catch-all tool, sometimes leading to dried out food or the famous microwave “lava-on-the-outside-frozen-in-the-middle” syndrome.
These issues aren’t really the microwave’s fault, though, because they aren’t meant to do that. You wouldn’t use a chef’s knife to mash potatoes, right? And you wouldn’t use a potato masher to slice vegetables. Both could do the job, but they’d be really bad at it. To get the most out of your microwave, you need to play to its strengths. By following these tips, not only will you make your meal prep easier, but your food will turn out better, and you’ll grow to fully appreciate your microwave.
While most people use microwaves to quickly reheat food, and they’re certainly good at that, there are plenty of other effective applications. For example, microwaves are pretty successful at gently melting dairy products, like butter, or chocolate. You could melt them slowly on the stove, but you also run the risk of burning the ingredients. In the microwave, you can heat the ingredients for short amounts of time, like 30 seconds, before stirring, which should result in an evenly melted ingredient.
That’s not where their uses end, though. If you need to quickly soften or even sauté onions, a quick stint in the microwave can do the trick. Want more juice from your lemons or other citrus fruits? Twenty or 30 seconds in the microwave is all it takes. You can even revive stale bread or easily steam vegetables, making the microwave a really useful tool in the kitchen.
OK, so now we know how a microwave can be useful, but even then, it’s possible to misuse your microwave and ruin your food. Now, let’s look at a few tips that can help you use your microwave to its maximum potential.
Most microwaves have several buttons alongside the numbers and Start button. These are preset settings and cooking adjustments that allow you to tweak how your microwave cooks your food. Generally speaking, most of the presets aren’t worth using, unless you have a newer, higher-end microwave. However, the one button that may be useful to you is the Power Level button.
The Power Level of a microwave actually adjusts how long the magnetron creating the microwaves stays on during cooking. By lowering the power level of the microwave, you allow for the heat to more evenly distribute throughout your food. This can be ideal for frozen foods or thicker foods that normally struggle to heat the whole way through and prevents the “lava-on-the-outside-ice-in-the-middle” issue we mentioned earlier.
The timer on your microwave can be helpful, but it’s a bit misleading. Whenever you’re cooking anything in the microwave, it’s important to remember that your food continues to cook after your microwave stops. It’s key to know this for two reasons. First, if your food doesn’t appear fully done when the microwave is finished, wait about a minute, and it may be ready to eat. Even more importantly, give it that minute before putting the food back in the microwave to cook more. This is easily why many people quickly dry out their microwaved food. They overcook it when it was already done.
One of the best-known jokes about microwaved food is that the outside is lava-hot and the inside is ice-cold. There are plenty of good reasons for this, from many microwaves having hot and cold spots to differing food thicknesses, requiring different cook times. Since you can’t control the heating process, like you would on the stove, you have to plan a bit.
If you’re reheating a liquid or non-solid foods, heat them for a few seconds and stir regularly to ensure even heating. For something like mashed potatoes or rice, try spreading it evenly across the plate or bowl, which has the same effect. If you’re cooking a solid, you can try cutting it into smaller pieces, placing the food on the outer rim of the microwave instead of the middle, or placing a small glass of water in with the food. Each of these methods can help you heat your food more evenly.
The water in the glass trick has an added bonus and that helps you avoid drying out your food. As the water heats up, it turns to steam. While this may not be ideal for fried foods with a crispy outside, the steam heats the food and keeps it moist. Similarly, you can cover the food you’re cooking with a moist towel (paper or otherwise, as long as it’s microwave-safe). A third option would be to place cling wrap over the container holding your food. While this won’t add moisture to the food, it’ll keep the moisture from escaping, staying on or in the food. Each should have the desired effect of keeping your food from becoming a dried husk.
Our next tip also has to do with the moisture of your food, though for an entirely different reason. If you’re microwaving anything with a skin (think a potato) or an outer layer, you should pierce the outside. If there is moisture inside the food you’re cooking, it needs a way to escape the food. Otherwise, it’ll make a way out, and this is when you have issues. It’s literally why popcorn pops. If you want to keep your potato or microwavable meal from exploding, ruining the food, and causing a mess in the microwave, pierce the outside.
Finally, it’s important that you’re using the correct microwave-safe materials. You don’t want to ruin your microwave or cause an emergency. Luckily, we’ve already covered what materials aren’t safe in the microwave, so you can read that article to get fully informed!
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The microwave doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a kitchen appliance. It can easily and quickly cook your food with the push of a few buttons — no special attention or fancy cooking techniques needed; the machine does the heavy lifting. This trust can lead to an undeserved bad reputation, but this is more from misuse than anything else. When used properly, a microwave fulfills the lofty expectations we all have for it, easily getting the job done without too much work or stress!