They’ve long been maligned as a kitchen device for heating up Pot Noodles, but as the cost of living crisis deepens, the microwave is having a moment. Not only are they the cheapest way to cook – they’re also one of the best, reckon these Michelin-starred chefs
He may be one of the nation’s most highly regarded gourmands, but Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin isn’t afraid to rustle up a meal in the microwave.
“It gets used a lot in our household,” he says. “I like to do fish in it. In a bowl with some white wine, herbs, a slice of lemon, clingfilm on the top – it’s very good like that.”
He’s not alone. The humble ‘popty ping’ – as the Welsh like to call it – may be maligned among the Ottolenghi-elite, but it’s time has finally come.
Research by the energy company Utilita has found that they are the cheapest way to cook, costing 8p per day to use, or £30 annually. By comparison, an electric cooker costs 87p per day, or £316.54 annually. With Britons facing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation, the microwave is finally shaking off its reputation as the heater-upper of ready meals and cold tea.
“I could not live without my microwave. It is the single best piece of equipment in a kitchen,” David Chang, owner of two Michelin-starred New York restaurant Ko, boldly wrote in his recent book Cooking At Home.
Chang uses them to make a chicken coconut curry, oyakodon (chicken and silky eggs on rice), to roast heads of cauliflower (before putting them in the oven to colour), to bake mug cakes and for steaming vegetables.
Not only do they save on washing up – needing just one dish for the whole meal – but they save on cooking time too. Baking a potato in an oven takes an hour, or 10 minutes in a microwave (finish it off in the oven to get that delicious crispy skin).
How do they work? They differ from ovens – which heat the air, which then heats the food – by using electromagnetic radiation to directly heat the food. Electricity is converted into an electromagnetic wave that causes molecules in the food to bounce around, causing friction and heat – and sometimes “explosions of overexcited spaghetti sauce”, writes Chang.
Vegetables cooked in the microwave may retain their colour better than those boiled on the hob, staying vibrant and green, but do they lose more nutrients cooked this way?
I could not live without my microwave. It is the single best piece of equipment in a kitchen
According to Dr Anthony L. Komaroff, editor of the Harvard Health Letter, the speed of cooking means that in fact they retain more nutrients than those kept at higher temperatures for longer on a hob.
And the belief that they’re bad for our health, radiating the cells of anyone foolish enough to stand staring into them as their food spins? “To make a long story short, there is no evidence of this,” he says.
What they can’t do, however, is create the Maillard reaction – the browning that gives seared meat or crisp golden onions their taste.
“You can’t just pop anything into a microwave and expect this glorious meal to come out,” explains Chang. “The key to success is knowing that it’s not going to do all the work for you. It’ll get your broccoli steamed and your chicken cooked, but then you’ll want to finish these things elsewhere to make them really delicious.”
Two meals to help you microwave like David Chang
Serves 2 to 4
In a microwave-safe dish, combine 1½ cups (300g) of short-grain rice, 2 cups (473ml) of broth (vegetable, beef, chicken, your choice), 1 cup (236ml) of water, half a chopped onion, and a splash of soy sauce.
Microwave on high for 25 minutes, until the liquid is mostly soaked up, stirring every 8 minutes. Then add 1 cup (236ml) of water and microwave for 5 minutes more, until it is creamy and porridge-like.
Top with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, a handful of chopped spring onions, and if you want, a few pieces of shredded cooked pork or chicken. Or skip these and try a combination of cumin and coriander. Or maybe go a little more Spanish with garlic, tomato paste and saffron.
Or turn your juk into something that tastes a lot like risotto. Stir in a few pats of unsalted butter, a big handful of parmesan, a splash of white wine and a few cracks of black pepper.
Image: Horatio Baltz
Poke 4 large russet potatoes on both sides with a fork, and put them in a bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes on each side, or until they are cooked through.
As soon as the potatoes are out of the microwave, peel them (or not – I don’t), and mash them in a bowl with a potato masher or fork, mixing in a half a stick (56g) of salted butter.
In a separate bowl, combine a pint of double cream, 1 minced garlic clove, black pepper and a pinch of thyme leaves. Microwave on high for a few minutes, until the cream is very hot and infused. Strain the cream and gradually mix it into the potatoes. Then stream in a little olive oil to give the potatoes a nice sheen.
You’re looking for a soft, creamy, silky texture (if they’re a little liquidy, it’s okay – the potatoes will keep absorbing the liquid). Taste and adjust with salt.
Image: Parnis Azimi
Main image: Monkey Business Images
Recipes from Cooking At Home by David Chang and Priya Krishna