Your Microwave Can Make You an Even Better Cook—If You Use It Right
The microwave, or as British cookbook author and television personality Nigella Lawson pronounces it, the mee-crow-wah-vay, has a public relations problem. Invented in 1946, it's a real feat of culinary ingenuity and an incredibly versatile kitchen tool, but rarely is it celebrated like other modern kitchen inventions. (Looking at you, Instant Pot, air fryer, and sous vide machines.) Far too often, microwaves are used only to heat up prepackaged frozen dinners, pop popcorn in a bag, or warm up sad leftovers. To cook something in the microwave is to "nuke" it—as if vegetables will enter fresh but exit blasted into limpness, devoid of all nutrients and flavor. (Studies have shown that cooking vegetables in a microwave in some cases can increase their nutritional value.)
The microwave is still seen as a device for those who are incapable of preparing themselves a better meal or are solely on the hunt for convenience, a crutch for those who can't or don't want to cook. But chefs and other culinary pros know otherwise. There is no better tool in your kitchen for cutting down cooking time while still achieving the same results as other methods. Microwaves make steaming and "baking" vegetables a breeze, silky-smooth sauces a quick affair, and infusing oils with a megaton of flavor a simple task.
Eunjo Park, a 2020 Food & Wine Best New Chef, turns to the microwave to make gyeranjjim, a Korean dish of fluffy and luxurious steamed eggs, in just a few minutes. Traditionally, it needs to be cooked in an earthenware pot on the stove. Similarly, cookbook author Andrea Nguyen swears by her microwave when she's making a dish of silky Vietnamese eggplant; it requires none of the usual fuss of salting and straining the nightshade before cooking. And for dessert, pastry chef Doris Hô-Kane of Ban Bè in Brooklyn uses a microwave to make both the chewy mochi skin and rich black sesame–chocolate filling of her beautiful mooncakes and doesn't have to deal with cleaning up several pots and pans. (And yes, there are recipes for all of these below.)
The truth is that a microwave, used properly, can actually make you an even better cook. It can cut down on cooking times, save you from using multiple dishes, and achieve exactly the same textures as other methods. So go on and hit "start" on a few smart shortcuts for your next home-cooked meal.
Looking for a shortcut for powerhouse ingredients? Your microwave sous chef has you covered.
Spatter-Free Browned Butter
Place 1/2 cup unsalted butter in a microwavable bowl. Cover bowl with a piece of parchment paper; top with a microwavable plate. Microwave in 1-minute intervals until butter is golden brown and smells nutty, 5 to 7 minutes.
Speedy "Roasted" Garlic
Cut the top from 1 garlic head; place in a microwavable bowl with 1 tablespoon water. Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Microwave on 50% power in 3-minute intervals until tender, about 6 minutes.
Quick Dried Herbs
Place 6 to 8 fresh herb sprigs 1/2 inch apart on a paper towel–lined microwavable plate. Microwave on high in 20-second intervals until herbs are dry, about 2 minutes. Remove leaves; store in airtight containers up to 1 month.
The microwave transforms fatty meats into crispy toppings or anytime snacks.
Place 4 slices thick-cut bacon between paper towels on a microwavable plate. Microwave in 2-minute intervals until bacon is crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Let cool; crumble as desired. Sprinkle over Korean Steamed Eggs (recipe below), stir into cold salads, or sprinkle over pasta.
Place 4 to 6 slices salami between paper towels on a microwavable plate. Microwave on high in 30-second intervals until crispy, about 1 minute. Serve with a charcuterie board, pile on a sandwich, or serve with marinara sauce for dipping.
Place 3 ounces thinly sliced Spanish chorizo between paper towels on a microwavable plate. Microwave on high in 20-second intervals until fat is rendered and chorizo is slightly browned, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate to cool and crisp. Sprinkle over cooked black beans, or tuck into tacos.
Korean Steamed Eggs (Gyeranjjim)
Time it right to get veggies perfectly tender or extra crispy in the microwave.
Speedy Sweet Potatoes
Prick potatoes with a fork; place in microwavable dish with 1 tablespoon water per potato. Cover with a microwavable lid, and microwave on high until fork-tender, about 5 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. Turn and cook in additional 1-minute intervals, if needed.
Easy Cherry Tomato Sauce
Place 4 cups cherry or grape tomatoes in a microwavable bowl. Toss together with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Cover and microwave on high until tomatoes are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Toss with fresh-cooked pasta, or spoon over ricotta.
Crispy Spiced Okra
Crispy okra from the microwave? Watch this, says Shah: In a microwave-safe bowl, toss together 4 cups 1/4-inch-thick okra slices with 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, plus salt, ground cumin, turmeric, and red pepper to taste. Cover partially, and microwave on high 10 minutes. Uncover, stir, and microwave in 3-minute intervals until crispy, tossing after each.
Microwave Eggplant with Scallion-Chile Crisp Oil
Satisfy your sweet tooth in less than 3 minutes with these fast-fix desserts.
Make a Mug Cake
Whisk together 3/4 cup melted chocolate ice cream, 1/3 cup cake flour, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder in a microwavable coffee mug. Microwave on high in 30-second intervals until cake is puffed, about 2 minutes total. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. —Justin Chapple
Just Fondue It
Microwave 1 cup heavy cream in a microwavable bowl on high until very hot, about 1 minute and 30 seconds. Spoon 1 cup chocolate- hazelnut spread into a heatproof bowl. Whisk in cream until smooth. Serve with biscotti or fresh berries.
Microwave Bánh Deo (Mochi Mooncakes) with Black Sesame–Chocolate Filling
Upgrade Your Microwave
And try cookware made just for it!
This compact 750-watt countertop model has a unique round-back design that fits into corners, freeing up space. Users love its energy efficiency and plethora of features. $179, whirlpool.com
GE Profile Countertop Sensor
Got lots of space? The 2.2-cubic-foot Profile's 16.5-inch turntable and 1,100 watts of cooking power ensure food is evenly cooked in less time. $369, geappliances.com
Breville Smooth Wave
Smart microwaves cook, reheat, and defrost precisely. This stylish one sports technology that adjusts the power according to what's cooking. $350, breville.com —Kat de Naoum
These microwave-safe cooking dishes come in four sizes and can do everything from steaming broccoli to reheating soup. $120 for a set of 4, cookanyday.com —Khushbu Shah