|Mastering Your Microwave|
Chef Masters premiered on Bravo last night and the incredible talents of Hubert
Keller, Tim Love, Christopher Lee and Michael Schlow were put to the test. Their challenge? To construct a gourmet three
course menu inside of a college dorm room with just a hot plate, a microwave
and a toaster oven to cook their food. A quandary many of us remember (for me, it was just last semester...and next semester)—satiating a discerning appetite when the dining hall’s
weekly special seems stale. And though
the Top Chefs still had a few more resources than the average college student
(nobody I know is buying red snapper and prosciutto for their makeshift dorm
room kitchen), the levels of culinary achievement they reached were mouthwatering
and for my talents, a little unattainable.
I guess that’s why they’re masters and I’m, well, a fan. But, don’t despair just yet. The fact is, the limited capabilities of a
dorm room or a studio apartment should never dissuade an aspiring
gourmand. Got room for a microwave?
You’re all set.
The microwave is actually one of the most useful tools a
busy chef can have in their arsenal and despite the apparent confusion it
caused to our Masters in last night’s episode (the clips of them spasmodically
pressing buttons were hysterical), it proves itself particularly excellent at
cooking vegetables, fruit and fish, and perfectly adequate for meat and poultry. Wylie Dufresne loves experimenting with it in
his kitchen at WD-50. So let’s move beyond the realm of Lean
Cuisine and Stouffer’s and into the gourmet world of the microwave oven.
How do microwaves work? Microwaves emit radio waves at a frequency of 2,450 megahertz to cook through dialectical heating. At this frequency, the radio waves help create energy by passing through the polarized molecules of water, fats and sugars. The positive and negative sides of the molecules rotate as they try to properly align themselves with the micro waves. In this rotation, collide with each other and create kinetic energy manifested as heat. As the radio waves are absorbed into the food, it is heated throughout more quickly than surface methods of cooking such as broiling. The radio waves are not however absorbed by plastic or glass at this frequency and thus, the food is heated directly and efficiently.
Um, cool, I kind of understand. But what does that mean in a practical sense? Well, it means that microwave ovens are much quicker than most heating methods (because they quickly penetrate the food) and that they work best on foods with a high water content. (Water is the most polarized of the food molecules and thus responds best to the micro waves.) It also means that effects like browning and caramelizing are nearly impossible to achieve because they rely on a specific distribution of heat to the surface of your food. Oh, and it means be careful putting metal in your microwave. They reflect rather than conduct the radio waves and thus create voltage. The sparks may be kind of pretty but they can destroy your oven or worse, your meal.
Aren’t there a lot of kinds of microwaves? You bet, so when you look at recipes the most important factor is how much wattage your oven has. The more wattage, the more quickly things will cook. Compact microwaves, the average consumer choice, are about a 18” wide by 12” tall and only get between 500-1000 watts of power. Medium capacity microwave ovens (still a common consumer choice) usually have a much greater width, giving them an extra cubic liter of space, and have powers of up to 1500 watts. And large capacity microwave ovens are, well, large. They usually have more than 2 cubic feet of space and more than 2000 watts of power and could easily cook your Thanksgiving turkey or a whole roast. Don’t know how much wattage your oven has? Most consumer ovens operate at about 750 watts; time how long it takes yours to boil a cup of water. And then check out this handy chart to see what wattage that corresponds to.
But, someone said microwave cooking was bad for me? There’s a lot of discussion about the possibility of risks associated with microwaves, but it is all speculative and the FDA has published an online guide on the safe use of microwave ovens. The most common complaints are those associated with baby’s milk which could be hotter than one would expect. But apart from that, the risks are analogous to those associated with all methods of cooking- in short, make sure your food is cooked through. Uneven heating can cause “cold spots” and nobody wants a raw burger. A simple solution is to cook on partial power for a longer period of time. In some ways, microwave cooking is actually thought of as healthier. Since it cooks more quickly, it provides less of an opportunity for fruits, vegetables, etc. to lose their nutrients in the heating process.
Blah, blah, blah. You’re boring. I’m hungry. Perfect! Enjoy these microwave recipes!
Chilled Salmon with Summer Tomato Salsa
4 (4 ounce) fillets salmon, skin removed
DirectionsPlace salmon in a shallow microwave bowl. Add 2 cups water. Cover and microwave on high 7-9 minutes or until salmon is cooked as desired. Remove from water; refrigerate until cool.
In a small bowl, toss to combine all remaining ingredients except lime. Refrigerate for thirty minutes to allow flavors to blend and marinate.
Serve salmon over the salsa and garnish with lime.
Ingredients2 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped broccoli (use fresh if desired)
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 pkg. (3 oz.) dehydrated onion soup mix
1 cup chopped pecans
1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
Defrost and drain broccoli. If using fresh, chop into small florets.
In a two-quart microwaveable casserole dish, cook for 4-10 minutes on high power until very hot. (Four minutes is for about a 1200 watt oven, while 10 minutes is for about 500 watts)Sprinkle with bread crumbs before serving.
Cranberry Apple Crunch
1 cup sugar
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped nutsWhipped cream
Combine sugar, cranberries, apples and 1 cup water in a buttered 2 quart microwave proof casserole or baking dishCover and cook on high for ten minutes
In bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, flour and salt
Cut in butter with two knives to make a coarse mixture. Stir in nuts and sprinkle on top of cranberry mixture.
Cover and cook on high for 5 minutes. Remove cover, and cook for an additional 4 minutes or until apples are done.
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