Microwave ovens can be used in many ways to save time and energy. This guide will help you. Most recipes give methods and cooking times for conventional ovens too.
How a microwave oven works
Cooking with microwave energy differs from conventional cooking in that there is no direct application of heat to food. As microwaves pass through the food in the oven, they cause the water molecules within the food to vibrate at extremely high speeds; this friction produces the intense heat which is necessary to cook the food.
Choosing a microwave oven
There are many models available, ranging in power from around 500 to 700 watts. The lower wattage ovens take slightly longer to cook food. A good model to choose for domestic use is from 600 to 650 watts. Recipes in this feature have been tested in Sharp ovens of both 600 and 650 watts.
To ensure even cooking, the food needs to be turned occasionally in the oven. Some ovens are available with an automatic turntable which rotates the food, cooking it evenly and doing away with the necessity for hand turning. Most microwave ovens do not brown food. However, an oven will soon be introduced which has a top browning element. Cost, of course, will be higher.
Positioning the oven
A microwave oven cannot be built-in. It must be positioned so that air circulates freely around the back and sides. Do not have it too near a conventional oven, where the steam and heat from top-of-stove cooking could affect the microwave mechanism.
Operating the oven
Before you start to operate your microwave oven, carefully read through the manufacturer’s book of instructions which accompanies each oven. This is important for any new appliance.
Any food which spatters while cooking, such as bacon or sausages, should be covered loosely with paper toweling, to help keep the oven clean.
After using the oven each time, wipe it out with a cloth clipped in warm soapy water, and wrung out; do not use detergents, solvents, or abrasives.
Make sure that the door seal is kept clean and completely free from food particles; wipe over after each use. A build-up of food particles around the door seal could prevent the door from shutting tightly, preventing the oven from operating correctly, and even allowing for the possibility of microwave leakage.
A microwave oven should not be switched on unless there is something in the oven because this could damage the magnetron, which produces the microwaves. For safety’s sake, keep a glass of water in the oven, when the oven is not in use. If the oven is turned on accidentally, the water will absorb the microwave energy.
Cooking utensils to use
Do not use metal or foil cooking utensils in a microwave oven, and do not use any dishes which have a gold or silver or other metal trim. Microwaves are reflected by metal; the use of these dishes would reflect the microwaves back to the magnetron, which produces the microwaves, and could damage it. The magnetron is rather like the picture tube in a television set, costly to replace.
Use glass, ceramic, or paper dishes, through which microwaves are transmitted. Firm, pliable plastic dishes such as 2-liter ice-cream containers can also be used, but only when the food has a short cooking time – about 10 minutes; they can also be used for warming food. High heat or cooking for an extended time could distort the shape of the plastic.
Some manufacturers make special sets of cooking utensils and individual dishes, suitable for microwave cooking.
If you are unsure if a dish is suitable for microwave cooking, do this test. Put the empty utensil in the microwave oven for 30 to 45 seconds. If the utensil is hot to the touch when removed from the oven, it should not be used for microwave cooking.
A browning dish is also available. This is a pyro-ceramic dish that has been specially coated on the base to absorb and retain heat. Place the dish, completely empty, into the oven. Heat for up to 6 minutes; this pre-heating time will vary, depending on the type of food to be cooked.
Pre-heat only 1 minute for eggs, up to 6 minutes for meat such as steaks and chops. Do not pre-heat an empty dish for longer than 6 minutes or the dish could be damaged. After initial pre-heating time, add food and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions for your oven.
Cooking in a microwave oven
Timing is all-important when cooking in a microwave oven. With quick-cooking items, like eggs, even an extra second can mean the difference between palatable and over-cooked, unappetizing results.
Microwave ovens vary in size and wattage; these two factors can affect cooking times. Here again, use the manufacturer’s booklet as a general guide to cooking in your particular oven.
Remember, food continues to cook after it has been removed from the microwave oven.
Large items, such as whole chickens and joints of meat, need to be rested for 20 to 30 minutes after removing from oven (individual recipes give specific resting times).
Joints need to be turned once during cooking. Foods such as sauces, scrambled eggs – even vegetables to which liquid has been added – need to be stirred once during cooking.
Foods cook from the outside to the inside; so, when stirring, start from the outside and stir towards the center.
Do not overlap or stack pieces of food; for even cooking, arrange food in a single layer with the thicker pieces toward the outside.
Do not let the cooking container touch sides of the oven; this will interfere with the circulation of microwaves.
Remember, the more food placed in a microwave oven, the longer it will take to cook. One apple takes about 4 minutes; six apples will take about 15 minutes of cooking time until done.
Defrosting and cooking frozen foods
If defrosting frozen dinners, remove the contents from the foil container and place it on serving plate; cover loosely with absorbent paper. Reheating time is approximately 10 minutes on full power; meat, chicken, etc., may need to be turned once during reheating time.
Vegetables can be cooked frozen. Put into a small container, add 2 tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon butter; cover, cook until tender, stirring once. Peas will take about 5 minutes to cook. Do not add salt until vegetables are done; salt added before cooking, tends to toughen vegetables.
Frozen chickens can be defrosted on the defrost cycle. The defrosting time will depend on the size of the chicken. Cover loosely with absorbent paper while defrosting.
Pastry goods, such as frozen pies or pizzas, can be put into the oven in their frozen state. A large-size pizza or apple pie will take about 10 to 12 minutes on full power to become piping hot. However, pastry softens in a microwave oven; better results are obtained in a conventional oven.
Microwave roasting times
Cooking times given below are approximate only. These can vary, according to the thickness of individual joints; and, for beef, the quality of meat used. Times given are for cooking on full microwave power.
Meat does not brown well in a microwave oven (unless the oven has a top browning element). To give a browner finish when cooked, sprinkle the joint before cooking with seasoned salt, one which has paprika as part of the seasoning. Turn joints once, halfway through cooking time.
When the cooking time has expired, wrap the joint firmly in aluminum foil, stand out of the oven for 20 minutes; the meat will continue to cook during this standing time and will still be piping hot.
- BEEF: 7 to 10 minutes per 500g (1lb), according to whether it is to be cooked rare, medium, or well done.
- LAMB: 8 to 10 minutes per 500g (1lb).
- PORK: 7 to 10 minutes per 500g (1lb).
- CHICKEN: 8 minutes per 500g (1lb).
Here’s a variety of quick-and-easy breakfast ideas to cook in minutes.
- PORRIDGE: Put 2½ cups of hot water with ½ teaspoon salt into a bowl, microwave on full power for 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of one-minute oats; mix well, microwave 1 minute; stir, microwave further 1 minute. Remove from oven, stir, cover, let stand 2 minutes. Serves 4.
- SAUSAGES: Prick sausages well with a fork. Arrange in even layer in browning dish, put a sheet of absorbent paper on top of sausages. Microwave on full power for 4 minutes. Turn the sausages over and microwave further 4 minutes.
- TOMATOES: Wash and slice 2 tomatoes, arrange in even layer in a shallow dish, microwave on full power 2 minutes. Wash and halve 2 tomatoes, put on to the plate, microwave 4 minutes. Very firm tomatoes may take a little longer because they contain less liquid.
- BACON: Put a layer of absorbent paper on the base of a shallow dish or plate. Arrange 2 rashers of bacon over the paper, put a sheet of absorbent paper on top of the bacon, microwave on full power for 3 minutes.
- EGGS: Grease four small individual souffle dishes, break 1 egg into each dish, prick the yolk with skewer or fork. Cover each dish with a sheet of plastic wrap microwave on full power 2¾ minutes. Remove from oven, stand a further 1 minute. For 1 egg only, microwave 30 seconds, stand 1 minute.
- SCRAMBLED EGGS: Beat together 2 eggs, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of milk. Put into a greased small, shallow dish. Microwave on full power 1 minute, stir from the outside of the dish into the center, microwave on full power further 1 minute. Remove from oven, cover, stand further 1 minute. Serves 1.