Microwave Magic and Me

Kate Coldrick’s enlightening postings on the heat treatment of flour on this blog and on her own: www.amerrierworld.wordpress.com/may be responsible single-handed for a tidal wave increase in microwave sales around the world!But it grieves me to think that people will be using their new microwaves only for flour! So I’ve decided to put together a short list to get you started on other great uses for the microwave. First some background history. There has been and may still exist some degree of snobbery when it comes to microwaves that sounds something like this: “Oh I would NEVER have a microwave in MY kitchen.” I suspect this attitude stems from the incorrect use of microwaves such as cooking bacon which granted rids it of fat but also toughens it. I started experimenting with microwave cooking as a student at NYU using a microwave oven that dated back to WWII. It was my assignment to put it through its paces and in the process prepare a dinner for professor Pfaff who had one of those enviable metabolisms that required her to eat substantially well everyday or she would lose weight. No one knew much about microwave cooking at the time and there was much to learn, the main thing being that it was great for some things but to be avoided for others.

A few years later, when Elizabeth Alston was food editor at Redbook magazine, she invited me to do a freelance story on microwaves. I declined at first, stating that food magazines usually wanted articles about ingredients or piece of equipment that went from soup to nuts and I didn’t like the microwave for everything. But Elizabeth valued my approach and said: “I want you to do only what you think works well in it.” In the process of developing recipes for this story the microwave won me over to such a degree I decided to open a cooking school to share these discoveries with others. I called Mimi Sheridan who was writing up NY cooking schools for the New York Times and was reproached severely for contemplating such an endeavor especially as I was married to a radiologist (still am!). Mimi asked me how I could consider such a dangerous form of cooking and said that the New York Times would NEVER stand behind it. I explained the principles of microwave and how radiology dealt with radiation which was a different part of the spectrum from microwaves which fell under the radar or radio wave spectrum. To no avail. In the end, I am grateful to Mimi because had I specialized in microwave cooking it would have been limiting and I might never have gone the direction of The Cake Bible! And Barbara Kafka ultimately proved Mimi partially wrong by writing a regular column on microwaving for the New York Times. The other part was when she recommended doing deep fat cooking in it, causing several explosions and lawsuits. This is all past history, however. But before I enter the present I must report that I ultimately went on to teach microwave cooking for two semesters at NYU and continued to learn more about it’s valuable potential. And when I went to London to revise The Cake Bible, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the UK’s top chefs, Michael Aldridge, who was chef at the Connaught Hotel and is now chef for the Chunnel which traverses the Atlantic between England and France. Chef Aldridge had been in pre-med before he decided to change course and become a chef. At some point in our conversation I hesitatingly brought up one of my favorite uses for microwaves and to my astonishment and delight he said “I have one in this kitchen and I use it for the same purpose!” It was to concentrate fruit juices. Using the microwave prevents the slight browning or carmelization of the sugars in the juices and keeps the purity of the fruit’s flavor. I knew I had met a kindred spirit. Once you start using a microwave and understanding its principles you will find yourself applying them to all sorts of out-of-the box techniques that go far beyond boiling water or defrosting. And Kate’s technique of heat treating unbleached flour to help it to gelatinize and mimic the characteristics of bleached flour where it is not available is such an example. Pointers to keep in mind: * Food continues cooking after microwaving is finished so undercook slightly. * For vegetables always add a little water to keep them from drying and microwave covered, * If using plastic wrap to cover the food be sure to lay back a little of it to allow steam to escape. * Salt the food after microwaving or the salt granules attract the microwaves and cause burn spots. * Rule of them for vegetables: 7 minutes per pound. Example, for broccoli, I slice the stem end into 1/4 inch thick rounds and spread it on the bottom of a microwave-proof container. Then I place concentric circles of florets on top. * Microwaves are attracted to fat so for softening butter or buttercreams, melting chocolate or softening ganache, start with 3 to 5 second bursts. I always use the microwave to heat heavy cream for ganache, as it brings the cream to the boiling point without danger of burning it at the bottom and there’s no need to stir. * When caramel hardens prematurely I zap it for a few seconds in the microwave and it’s restored to perfect fluid consistency without a mess. * When reheating turkey breast, use a paper towel (I use the unbleached variety marked “for the microwave”), dampen it and wrap it around the turkey breast. This helps to keep it moist. * I love to reheat steak or thick slices of roast beef. One minute on high in my microwave heats it without continuing to cook it so it remains as rare as when I first cooked it. * Keep in mind that microwaves vary in power and power usage in your area so always err on the less is more side until you learn the machinenality (as opposed to personality) of your particular model! http://amerrierworld.wordpress.com/