Your microwave isn’t just good for reheating last night’s dinner. Use it as a cooking appliance for infusing flavor, trimming cook time and drying fresh herbs, and you’ll quickly realize it’s a tool that can help you cook, as opposed to one meant to save you from cooking at all.
Sure, microwaves these days do make it easier than ever to remove any guesswork or thought from the cooking process, from their speedcook technology to their timers and presets. And there are more choices than you might know what to do with. Our friends at Ferguson, for example, sell microwaves for home cooks and professional kitchens alike (yes, chefs use microwaves, too!), fit for anywhere in your kitchen. Think over-the-range machines—see their GE Advantium PSB9240SFSS BI model—or built-in drawers—like the Thermador Microdrawer MD24JS or JennAir JMDFS24GS. (We like microwave drawers for the valuable counter space they save and because they’re easy to load and clean when they’re lower to the ground. Also, many drawers don’t have the spinning plates you might be used to—a perk if you hate to clean and reset them.)
But here at Milk Street, we see microwaves as a useful tool, and we’re finding new uses for them all the time. We love cooking with beans, but too often flavor is elusive. But when we warmed canned beans up in the microwave before seasoning, as in our Greek Bean and Avocado Salad, we found bolder, deeper flavor that settled in as the beans cooled.
For more ideas like this, watch the video above, and never settle for bland beans again.
Warm Beans to Infuse with Flavor
It takes only three minutes but makes all the difference for imbuing flavor to canned beans, which we use frequently for quick salads. Simply microwave the beans, covered, in a microwave-safe bowl for about three minutes, and immediately toss with aromatics, oil or vinegar and seasoning. Flavor will build as the beans cool.
Par-Cook Potatoes to Jumpstart Recipes
Cooking home fries or hash browns usually requires par-boiling potatoes before frying, a step that is both tedious and risky. Cook for one minute too long and the potatoes turn mushy. We prefer to par-cook potatoes in the microwave, which heats them from the inside out and leaves them firm but tender. Try the technique out in our Spanish Eggs with Potatoes (Huevos Rotos).
One of our favorite ways to add bright, bold flavor comes from the Indian cooking technique known as tarka—infusing hot oil with spices and aromatics before drizzling it onto any manner of dish as a finishing touch. Liven up wilted greens, lentils or even popcorn this way. While simmering on the stovetop works just fine, we like blooming spices in the microwave, which contains potential splatter.
Preserve Fresh Herbs by Drying Them Out
Chef Jason Vincent of Chicago’s Giant uses a microwave in his restaurant kitchen for everything from softening butter and baking cakes to drying out fresh herbs as a way to preserve them. He suggests heating them for 5 to 10 second bursts for a total of one to two minutes, gently tossing them as you go. Read more about this method here.
Soften Vegetables to Absorb More Dressing
On a trip to Argentina, a carrot salad, of all things, became one of the most memorable dishes, thanks to the powerful, zippy flavor that infused just-boiled carrots. It prompted us to try dressing carrots that had cooked in the microwave, which softened them evenly without diluting any flavor. Letting the warmed carrots sit for 15 minutes after dressing ensures the flavor seeps in fully.