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Microwave v. 'actual' cooking on/in a stove/oven that is...

  • c

Okay here's the discussion. I have discussed on other websites discussion boards the use of microwave v. use of stove/oven when it comes to the art of cooking. Some people actually defend so-called 'cooking' in a microwave. I'm sure you can tell by now which one I think should be used for 'cooking'. I'm now going to pose a question...How many celebrity chefs/cooks either on The Food Network, or other cooking shows on other channels, do you see cooking food for dishes or meals using a microwave??? Personally I've never seen it done. Just my humble contention (JMHC) is that, yes, there is a use, limited though it may be, for microwaves and it's not for cooking. 1) Microwave popcorn, if you prefer it), 2) Heating pre-cooked frozen foods such as Smart Ones, Lean Cuisines, Healthy Choice etc. etc., 3) Melting i.e.butter chocolate etc. Other than that forget it. I won't even heat left over pizza in one if just comes out too rubbery. And I won't even heat a flour tortilla in one, gotta use my flat non-sided cast iron skillet for that, oh so much better. Well I think you all know where I stand when it comes to this topic. Your thoughts?

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  1. I actually do have a couple dishes that I cook in the microwave, and I have a browning dish, that I don't use since the invention of the foreman grill, but it's there. Now before you toss me out of here, let me defend myself. I live in Houston and it gets really hot, and I don't have central AC. The kitchen turns into a steam oven very quickly and if I can use a shortcut without ending up a dripping, exhausted mess, I'm going to! I even know how to make my gravy in the micro. When it gets cooler, I retire it for the types of things you listed, but in the heat of summer (which lasts about 8 months here!) I will cook some meals in there! Plus, it saves energy cost to an extent.

    Having said that, I will admit that if I went to a restaurant, or watched a food show, and saw them cooking ONLY in the microwave, I would walk out or tune out pretty darn quick!

    2 Replies
    1. re: danhole

      The microwave is cooking.

      You may be surprised how many chains cook much of their pre-prepared (what a redundant phrase) food in an m-wave.....

      1. re: Karl S

        Sorry, if the pre-prepared food is already cooked then it is not cooking, at least in my book. It's re-heating already cooked food. I wasn't referring to whether some 'chains' may or may not use a microwave in the preparation of food. I guess I could of been more specific but this is suppose to be about what we use as home cooks.

    2. I think it's a tool like anything else. You can abuse it or use it properly. I do one dish that uses the microwave for steaming.

      I put some fish fillets in a glass dish, soy sauce, scallions and ginger, cover with plastic wrap. Rotate nuke for a few minutes and the liquid steams the fish up and there's a light sauce. Fish comes out nice and flaky as long as you don't nuke it for too long. Quick and easy meal that takes less than 20 minutes from prep to serve, including chopping up the scallions and ginger. Clean up while it's nuking.

      Very fast light tasty meal if you're in a hurry. I'd put this in the category of cooking.

      1. snobbery aside, the microwave is a very useful tool, for aq lot more than popcorn. (actually popcorn comes out a bit dry in the microwave, but i digress) anything u steam u can microwave. simple veggies work great. simple fish.. also many ways to do in a microwave. REmember microwaving is essentially cooking by steam.. the steam from the water molecules in your food.

        it is not for roasting, heating pizza or anything the requires crispness. so complaining that it doesnt these things is like complaining your hammer wont play cd's.

        is it cooking? of course it is. food is more than the tools used to prepare it. Like any endeavor using the right tool for the job works. As does using the right job for the tool.

        As to celebrity chefs and food tv.. i don't really care if they use them or not. Im sure if and when they do (and im pretty sure at home they do) they use it for what it works for. Why don't they do it on TV? probably because of the pre-judgment on the method by chefs like the OP.

        1. Since they came out with those steamer bags, I admit I've been using the microwave a lot more. I've noticed that steaming my potatoes instead of boiling them for mashing come out beautifully (and half the time). As for reheating pizza, if I don't have "crisping" paper, I just use the toaster oven.

          2 Replies
          1. re: MrsT

            I use the microwave for potatoes as well. I don't use the bags and they come out great for mashing and hash browns.

            1. re: KTinNYC

              Per Jacques Pepin, I start my baked potatoes with 5-7 minutes in the microwave then finish them for half an hour in a hot oven. Very good texture and flavor.

          2. Yes it is cooking and at times much more difficult than using a saute pan and heat. Cooking is bring food to an edible state.

            Beneath this umbrella there are lots of sub-categories. Is Curing as in gravlax. cerviche. smoked meats. jfood would go so far as sashimi is cooking. It is a means to an end that bring food from an inedible state to an edible state (even sashimi).

            1. i'm pretty much a cook-without-microwave snob, but i think that barbara kafka's microwave cook book proves all of us snobs wrong.

              i don't have 100 food channels, i also am a cook-without-tv snob, but maybe the reason they don't use them on tv is that it isn't exciting for people to watch.

              1. have cooked in a microwave....bacon....steaks, chicken, hamburgers,and pork chops (have a big browning griddle that is for the microwave and yes it does brown the meats), potatoes (much quicker and easier), scrambled eggs (come out light and fluffy if done correctly), roasted garlic, pasta (does a nice job on ravioli) and rice, and almost anything that can be cooked (you might need some microwave cookware. It does a lot more than reheat foods and frozen dinners and popcorn.

                2 Replies
                1. re: robertjsweet

                  I recently fried up some bacon for my parents in my cast iron pan and they were impressed with how good it was. Their bacon has gotten terrible because they only use the microwave, yuck! I personally don't even have one and when I did I never used it, except to heat up coffee.

                  1. re: Missmoo

                    Again, Jacques Pepin in one of his "Fast Food My Way" books says he now rarely cooks bacon any other way.

                2. Microwaves make wonderful bread boxes. Other than that, it's the least utilized thing in my kitchen, although I do use it for veggies.

                  When I lived in Japan, we had no oven and I bought one of those convection oven/microwave combo's. Now that was a serious appliance.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bkhuna

                    Yep, there's the TurboChef http://www.chowhound.com/topics/378539 touted by some high end chefs. But for my two cents, that's still an endorsement of cooking with microwaves. Just a wee bit fancier a microwave! :-)

                    1. re: cayjohan

                      Gads, I mean to say this is a GOOD thing. Microwavery has its place, along with sous vide and dry smoking, et alia. Just another method, just not suited for everything.

                  2. Try microwaving fish en papillote the next time you're having dinner solo. You can take the recipe any direction you want with different veggies and seasonings. Mirepoix, butter, white wine and herbs are good, but you could go with nappa, water chestnuts, and peppers with sesame oil, soy, and ginger. No rules here.

                    Here's how I do it. Make a big parchment pouch (fold in half and cut out a half-heart shape). Put a cup to a cup and a half of julienned veggies on the center of one side of the parchment paper and season. Top with an 8-oz. salmon fillet. Season again. Top with a little citrus if you like. Lemon slices are classic, but the flesh of an orange (sans pith and membranes) works well, too. Sprinkle on a tablespoon or so of liquid, seal the pouch with overlapping folds, place on a microwave-safe plate, and nuke for 4 minutes on high. Open parchment and serve.

                    This method is quicker and easier than using the oven and the flavors and textures are outstanding. Seriously, this could change your mind about whether the microwave can be used for "actual" cooking.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      alanb, I don't have my copy of Harold McGee handy, but I believe he comes out with a thumbs up for the quick cooking of the microwave for certain dishes in preservation of both vitamin content and texture. This would support your dish's deliciousness. Correct me if I'm wrong, anyone, but I think there is a place for this cookery. And alanb, I'll be trying your salmon. Thanks!

                    2. I'm with the pro-microwavers. Use it for steamed fish, rice (in a special mw cooker), potatoes, pre-cooking sausages, steamed vegetables, more. I make my yogurt (five liters at a time) in the mw. The mw is a good thing if you cook all the time. And as others have mentioned, it is good for some things and not for others.

                      1. While some here are raving about the steaming of (vegetables) and poaching of (fish) capabilities of the microwave, but I'm not really convinced or impressed. Yes time wise you may save a few minutes in actual cooking time (and, for those who use them, our throw away society allows them to toss those microwave plastic steaming bags in the trash to be used as landfill fodder). But the same results can be achieved on a stove top with the proper pan/poaching pan and a steaming collander. Most leafy vegetables will be steam cooked in a mere matter of 3 minutes while vegies such as broccoli or culliflower will take 8 -10 minutes. I'm sure the time that can be saved by poaching a fish, depending on size, is much greater in a microwave as opposed to stove top/oven. But I think you have much more control over the heating/temperature with a calibrated stove/oven. And thus I think you can achieve the same, if not better, flavorings & textures that others say they get with the microwave. Again, how many TV chefs/cooks have you seen steaming/poaching in a microwave??? I've seen this method done by these TV chefs/cooks, but never in a microwave.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: crt

                          You asked, we answered and you disagree <shrug>. Fair enough.

                          Since you haven't tried it, I don't think it's fair for you to say you think the texture and flavoring isn't comparable. I've fed my fish dish to extremely picky asian fish eaters and haven't heard a complaint. It's a tool that can be abused or used properly.

                          Breaking out pans, collanders, heating up water and washing all those would take considerably more time and envioromental resources than me mincing a couple of items on a cutting board, laying the fish fillets in a glass dish and covering with a sheet of plastic wrap. If I'm really lazy or tired, I eat out of the same dish and just have some bread on the side. Very easy clean up including the cutting board and knife.

                          As for control over poaching the fish, zap it for a few minutes, rotate, check and zap it again. With a digital timer where I can hone it down to seconds on the setting, I'd argue that I have more control instead of less over a steamer or oven. Not to mention the enviromental abuse of using the whole oven for one dish.

                          And personally just because I don't see a TV chef using a microwave to poach something doesn't mean it's not a valid point. TV is about sexiness and appeal. The process of using a microwave doesn't have eye candy appeal.

                          But if it doesn't work for you, that fine.

                          1. re: crt

                            Wait a minute, you're changing the question. You initially contended that "there is a use, limited though it may be, for microwaves and it's not for cooking." Plenty of people demonstrated that the microwave certainly can be used for cooking. Now you're saying that "the same results can be achieved on a stove top."

                            DUH. Of course you can steam vegetables on the stove. But just because you can use one tool to accomplish a task does not mean that it's the only--or even the preferred--tool for the job. It's cooking, regardless of whether you're doing it in the microwave or on the stove. Thus, your original contention has been proven to be incorrect.

                            Your opinion that "you can achieve the same, if not better, flavorings and textures" on the stovetop appears to be nothing but speculation. Given that you don't cook in the microwave, how could you possibly know? And even one or two disastrous experiences would only prove that meals can be ruined as effectively by bad cooking in a microwave as by bad cooking using other methods.

                            Finally, your claim that celebrity chefs don't use microwaves can be disproved by searching for recipes using that word on foodnetwork.com; you'll get 693 results, and they're not all popcorn. Emeril Legasse, the quintessential "celebrity chef," uses the microwave for brownies and chili. George Duran uses it for chicken curry. Alton Brown uses it to steam fish. And Sanda Lee and Rachel Ray, well, let's not go there.

                            If you don't want to use a microwave, it's nobody's business but your own. But don't go telling other people that they can't cook in a microwave. They can. They do. And whether you want to believe it or not, the results can be very, very good.

                            1. re: crt

                              In other words, you asked a question primarily to disagree with the answers? Jacques Pepin uses the microwave regularly, as he discusses in his books. Barbara Kafka is one of the most respected cookbook authors around. I think I'll take their word over yours.

                            2. The first Food Network producer who suggests that a chef watch a microwave zap food will get canned because that's just poor production values. TV works on action and that would be boring, boring, boring. Worse than watching Rachel Ray dump cans of stuff into a pot.

                              We're not going to persuade you that a microwave can be a useful tool if you don't want to accept it. Nobody believes that it will replace an oven or a cooktop but it can serve as an adjunct. The plastic steaming bags are foolish if you can microwave right in a serving bowl which cuts cleanup time - no pot to clean, no bags to buy, no trash, no enviro damage. For reheating, MWs are far better than the drying heat of an oven or the additional cooking that occurs over a flame for a great many items. There are exceptions and you have to learn the difference as you do with learning to cook in the MW. You can't do that with a closed mind.

                              You have as much, if not more, control over the outcome of the heating/temperature of the finished product in the microwave as you do with other means of cooking if you understand the technology of the MW and the product you are cooking. The moisture content and density of the food item will determine the success of the results. Some items do better than others. Some items will be soggy if cooking them requires evaporation of liquid. Some things get flavor from caramelization. I prefer to bake potatoes in the oven because I think they are somewhat soggy in the MW. Asparagus however are perfectly prepared in the MW and are never unevenly cooked. Generalization is impossible.
                              It took me awhile and some practice to get the hang of it. Now there are some things that I routinely cook in the MW because they are actually better that way than cooked in a pan on the stovetop. No, I don't cook ALL vegetable in the MW or ALL fish or ALL anything.
                              Just don't rule it out, please. It's not about saving time. It's because it does a better job.

                              1. Personally, I cook bacon in the MW. It's less messy, & bacon comes out perfect every time.
                                I normally only use it to steam veg's, or warm things, as opposed to "cooking" solely with it.
                                My oven however, is a Convection/Microwave, which offers a combo option, which makes great baked potatoes. I think it's useful, but I would never use it exclusively.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: louweezy

                                  How do you do the bacon? Last time I tried that the bacon seized the paper towel it was covered with as it contracted. I suppose bacon and wood pulp tastes better than wood pulp by itself, but...

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    bacon comes out great in the microwave... flat, crisp, and less shrinkage than on a stovetop. i dont know why your paper stuck, that has never happened to me,,, just lay down several layers of paper below the bacon add one or 2 on top... 3 or 4 minutes and viola... bacon.

                                    1. re: thew

                                      Thanks. I'll have to try it again, maybe this time with better-quality bacon sliced thicker.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes


                                        In a pinch jfood uses the MV to cook bacon. and yes it sorta sticks to the paper towels. jfood uses bounty and he dies not have paper left on the bacon if he removes is immediately. and the bacon is Oscar Mayer. Not sure whether changing the bacon will help the situation.

                                        Instead, jfood now bakes a full pound, wraps 3 slices in plastic wrap and freezes the 3-rasher packets in a freezer bag. When he want he grabs the a 3-slice pkg, removes the plastic, throws the bacon on a plate and into the MV for 30 seconds. works great.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          I used to do the bacon in the MW but also had trouble with the paper sticking. I really think that the quality of the bacon, and the quality of the paper towels makes a difference. Another thing that makes a difference, and I could be off base here, is how cold the bacon is when you take it out of the fridge. My DH will decide at the last minute that he has to have bacon, but it's in the freezer! So a quick defrost in cool water does the trick, but makes the bacon stick. If it was in the fridge and nice and cold it doesn't so much. Even so, I do prefer using my foreman grill for bacon. Cuts so much grease and doesn't take any longer than the MW.

                                          Oh no, crt, that's not actual cooking is it? I mean that I never see a TV chef/cook use that appliance either so I guess I am just warming it up, huh?

                                2. A little bit off subject. My great-grandmother had a gas range in the kitchen, but on the back porch she had her old wood burning stove. The gas was good enough for everyday cooking, but if she really wanted to cook things "right" it had to be done in the wood stove where she claimed it was really possible to control the temperature.

                                  No, microwaves are not the right solution for some cooking, but then neither is a wood burning stove, even if it was the state of the art in the 1800's.

                                  1. Virtually everything is the kitchen is a tool that is appropriate for some uses, and not others. And different individuals have different facilities for using those tools. I say, if the food is cooked properly, tastes good and looks appealing, and remains nutritious, microwaves have their place.

                                    I don't use mine for very much, but I suspect that's because I'm old enough to have grown up in a world without microwaves. Old habits die hard, and, frankly, most of my old habits work well for me, and I see no reason to change them. So, I don't use the mw. to melt chocolate or butter or some of the things I see television chefs do.

                                    However, with some vegetables (not all, but quite a few) that I simply want to cook and then season with a little butter, S&P, spices/herbs, I LOVE the microwave. Stick 'em in a bowl with Press & Seal on top and I find the magic machine gets them to that al dente state I love, every time. Some veggies don't do well in there, for our tastes, though.

                                    No matter how many times and methods and varieties I've tried, there are some preparations of potatoes I can't do well. Recipes that call for pre-cooking, then roasting or sauteeing for that perfect golden crust. I always end up turning the potatoes to mush. It's helped me a lot to microwave them first, instead, then proceed to the roasting, sauteeing, whatever the finishing method is. It's also useful in a time bind, to partially cook (steam?) them, cut up and covered in the microwave, then go to the scalloping phase, or au gratining, or whatever.

                                    I know some people are whizzes with the microwave and are doing far more with it than heating things out of a container. I'm not one of them, but it's still useful to me in cooking "real food".

                                    1. I find that you can make steel cut oats perfectly in the microwave and it's great since I hate dirtying the stovetop just for oatmeal.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: digkv

                                        TY for letting me know about that, dig. I do love them, but have never tried making them in the m'w. I'm going to try it.

                                        1. re: MaggieRSN

                                          I use the MW too. I always felt like a moron when I made oatmeal on the stove. No matter how hard I tried, the pot always seemed to boil over and make a mess. I'd turn my head for two seconds and there it went. No problems at all in the MW. I can make it right in the bowl, either one serving or a bunch of them in a big bowl to put on the breakfast table. I'll never look back! Or have to clean the stove again.

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            Absolutely, Sense. Or have to suffer one of those nasty little oatmeal spatters when you go to stir it.

                                            So I think I'm going to take you two up on this idea, and try it. Plus...one less pan to clean. Always a benefit!

                                      2. Many restaurants will finish meats in the microwave in a rush to get food out. 85% of the time when you come across an over cooked or even rubbery peace of meat, they've screwed up and let it sit in the microwave to long! Everything from Chicken, Salmon, and even steak will find it's way to the microwave during a busy night in a fast paced restaurant. The grill cools down when it's packed with ribs, steaks, burgers, chicken, salmon, and lord knows what else. It's a lose lose. Wait for it to cook properly which not only is a customer waiting for it to cook right, but they've waited for things to get off the grill so there food can get started and the grill is cooling down from the lack of air from being packed with food. It sucks. It happens though.

                                        1. I use the microwave fairly often for "cooking", or rather cooking. I primarily use it for vegetables. Barbara Kafka's magisterial "Vegetable Love" is the reason for this. She includes instructions for cooking a variety of vegetables in the microwave. Asparagus and Broccoli, for example, are actually better this way than on the stovetop. I now want to find a copy of her Microwave Gourmet and see what else I can cook in the microwave.

                                          I also have a pot I bought at an art gallery in North Carolina that has several cake and coffee cake recipes designed to be cooked in the microwave. I have done two of them so far -- a chocolate cake and a blueberry coffee cake. Both were wonderful.