Almost everyone has a microwave. For this lovely school year, I have to depend on my microwave as the closest thing to cooking something at my place. But not everyone knows how to properly use a microwave, or at least what to avoid when it comes to nuking food.
Some of you are wondering how microwaves work in the first place. Microwaves are light waves that carry energy, so that’s why they are able to cook food. In the light spectrum, they are in between radio waves and infrared waves (you can feel heat off of them!) in terms of strength. The way microwaves cook food is “inside out” meaning that instead of cooking from the outside in like a normal oven (conduction: warms the other layer and since it is hot on the outside the inner layers get warm until the whole thing is warm) it penetrates fat and water molecules, “exciting” them until they let out a bunch of heat (gotta love the innuendo). There are some downsides to it, like in thicker pieces of food the microwaves can’t reach the molecules or there is uneven warming, but that’s why you give your food a quick stir in the middle and end.
I wish microwaves were the solution to everyday cooking (who wouldn’t want to just push a button and then do your own thing until it beeps?), but sadly the microwaves are fairly limited in their abilities. Here is a small list of things that microwaves can’t do:
1) Make things crusty/flaky. Some people try to remedy this (think Hot Pockets) by including a cardboard/foil sleeve. The sleeve becomes hot enough to make the food item crispy inside. This is because the actual air inside the microwave is always at room temperature and since the waves don’t cook from the outside in, they will never touch the crust, which is what is necessary for crispiness.
2) Boil water. You can make water very hot like for tea or ramen, but you can’t make it boil. Be careful though, because if you put water in for too long it can explode even though it would look normal…and 2nd degree burns suck.
3) Cook onions. They catch on fire.
4) Foods meant to be moist (just for the sake of preserving the taste of the food). Since microwaves target fat/water molecules, that means they will be gone from the food once it’s done cooking, dehydrating it greatly. That’s why food will seemingly never taste as good as if it were made via the oven or stovetop. So if you really enjoy that rum cake or kobe beef steak….do the culinary world a favor and stick it in the oven or on the stove if you can.
Quick Microwave Tips:
1) DO NOT put metals in the microwave. Metals actually reflect the waves inside and bring out high voltages, and as a result you can break your microwave, start a fire, see a small explosion… and other uncool things. What has the microwave done to you?!
2) Make sure you use microwave safe containers. You don’t want part of your food container melting into your food…it could be dangerous and most importantly ruin the meal with nasty fumes or tastes (hey…I care about food. I guess it’s a foodie dilemma). Also, sometimes containers that are not microwave safe retain heat easier and you will burn yourself, which isn’t fun.
3) When making popcorn (Those of you who had to go through several dorm evacuations because of burnt popcorn know that feel), wait until there are about 2-3 seconds between each pop to stop the microwave.
4) If you’re cooking something kind of thick, like a steak or a tub of mashed potatoes, you should nuke it for a little longer or else you’re going to get it cold in the center, or in the middle of microwaving pause it to stir and then continue.
5) If you’re nuking something with oil or has the potential of exploding (eggs, indian food, etc.), cover the dish with a paper towel and avoid scraping up hardened food goop later! (You’re welcome.)
Any questions or extra microwave tips? Comment below and as always, happy eating!
Catherine Wong is a senior studying microbiology and immunology, born and raised in Fort Lauderdale. After growing up in the restaurant business as well as being an avid watcher of the travel channel and food network, she would like to share her love of gastronomy to the average broke college student. Her hobbies/interests include books, music and, of course, food.
Inebriation and Gluttony is about making smart food choices within the boundaries of a college student, like transforming that sad microwave ramen or taking advantage of cheap local fare, all while not breaking the bank and not busting your gut. Join the foodie movement and get cultured, learn some cool things about food, and most importantly practice gluttony at its full potential.