Do Not Underestimate Your Microwave
Lawson later explained that her pronunciation was a campy joke, akin to calling Target "tar-jay." Fast-forward a few months, and the microwave is trending again. This time, however, it's serious business: new cookware brands and culinary experts are leading a rebrand of the appliance. They want us to actually cook in it, not just reheat leftovers.
While microwave-based recipes have become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years, the appliance has been on a relatively rocky publicity journey since its inception. Introduced after World War II and popularized as a small countertop appliance in 1974, it has been the epitome of convenience, as well as a subject of judgment, with articles asking "Is It Safe To Microwave Food?" as recently as 2020. Regulated by the FDA since 1971, microwave ovens are generally considered safe, but they've failed to achieve prestige status in the food industry. That's changing.
Related: 15 Easy, Delicious Microwave Recipes
"Prior to this moment, there was nothing about the microwave that felt like, 'This is amazing,'" says Steph Chen, founder of the San Francisco-based cookware brand Anyday, which launched in March. "But I discovered that people like David Chang and Kenji Lopez have been saying for years that the microwave is an amazing thing that's misunderstood."
Like Casper did for mattresses and Our Place for non-stick pans, Anyday aims to disrupt microwave cooking, selling durable dishware designed specifically for the appliance. The idea came to Chen when she tried to microwave raw chicken, to a surprisingly delicious result. Excited to cook more dishes in the microwave, she looked for suitable equipment.
But, "a search for microwave cooking dishes yielded plasticky, low-quality products, or maybe you're using a glass bowl with plastic wrap on top," Chen says. So, she designed a series of frosted-glass, durable-lid microwave-cooking dishes that speak fluent millennial; they're tasteful, varied in depth and size, and marketed as a "solution" to cooking fatigue. In addition to the line of microwavable dishware, Anyday's website provides an impressive selection of recipes to make in them, from sweet potatoes with miso butter to Chinese silky egg custard.
Increasingly, experts and chefs are recommending the microwave in home cooking. On a recent season of MasterChef Australia, contender Therese Lum opted for the microwave instead of the much more popular hibachi in the process of making a dessert, a fact she celebrated on social media. And David Chang, a longtime proponent of microwave cooking, recently posted a demo using Anyday dishes.
While Anyday is currently expanding to Lum's home country (and, later this year, to Canada), another Silicon Valley brand is on its heels to win over microwave cooks. Omnipan, the latest launch by a small startup named Chef's Avenue, reached its Kickstarter crowdfunding goal in record time in April, launching a pre-sale on Indiegogo soon after. Developed by tech entrepreneur and cooking enthusiast Seema Shenoy, the Omnipan is a flat, multipurpose cooking sheet made of sturdy food-grade silicon, designed to be used both in the oven and the microwave. It features a steam-controlling lid with vents, meant to monitor the moisture of the dish.
"If cooking isn't your hobby, it's a chore," says Shenoy, who got the inspiration for the product from her millennial son's cooking habits. "But if you order food, you have very little control. People are looking for shortcuts for cooking, optimization. Less hassle, hands-free, less clean-up." The Omnipan is, of course, equipped with a recipe book Shenoy developed herself, tapping into family classics and tweaking them for the microwave. Among the recipes are microwave-poached salmon, spicy Indian scrambled eggs, and a chocolate berry cake.
At Anyday, Chen has had "a pretty easy time convincing younger people" to use the products, as they're "looking for ways to 'hack' their lives." For older generations that may still have trepidations about the microwave, Chen offers a surprisingly digestible health premise: "It's just a very fast steamer," she says. "Harvard and Cornell have done scientific studies that show that cooking in the microwave is the healthiest way to cook, the most nutrient-dense."
It doesn't hurt that multiple power players are also upping their microwave cooking game. Smart microwaves with built-in recipe platforms and time-saving features exist now, and Tupperware recently introduced a new range of microwave-specific cookware. Want a cute microwave that will look good on your Instagram feed? You can find that, too.
Has the pandemic made us weary of elaborate home cooking? Have our cooking projects become smaller, more efficiency-focused? Probably. Sarah Long, the CFO for the state of West Virginia and a veteran home cook, just published the microwave-friendly cookbook College Cooking 101: Fast Food Without a Kitchen. Though it's dedicated to her college-aged children, the book has resonated with a wide audience.
"More than ever, people want to cook for one or two, and the microwave it's the perfect fit," she says. "It's small, quick, and you don't dirty a lot of pots and pans."
There's also an adventurous, experimental side to microwave cooking. With TikTok unleashing a certain appetite for trying new tricks in the kitchen, making a silky egg custard in minutes—using an appliance previously viewed as a leftover reheater—suddenly makes a lot of sense. "How do you get people out of the microwave- is-a-reheating-tool mindset?" says Chen. "You've got to surprise them."