Microwave ovens used to be novelty cooking equipment, intended mostly for reheating or thawing food. Now, they are in almost every home and business, and are used to prepare entire meals. Here are some tips on avoiding common microwaving mistakes.
For most of us, microwave ovens are as common as toasters in our kitchens and equally as foolproof. We simply place a bag of popcorn into the oven, press a few buttons and in minutes we are enjoying a perfectly popped snack. When we decide to have a meal on the go, we pull out a frozen entree and slide it into the box, fully confident that success is only a button push away. But how many times have you smelled the unfortunate aftermath of burnt microwave popcorn, or enjoyed a meal that was rubbery on the outside and frozen in the middle? Microwave ovens are deceptively easy to use, lulling unsuspecting users into a false sense of security. Here are some common microwaving mistakes, and a few tips on how to avoid them.
1. Rubbery hamburgers. Microwave ovens are tremendously useful when thawing foods or reheating leftovers, but can be tricky when trying to cook traditional foods, such as hamburgers. If you thought you could simply form a hamburger patty and zap it in most microwaves, you should be familiar with that rubbery piece of burnt meat that came out. Unless your particular microwave has a browning element or is a convection/microwave hybrid, you are not going to be able to make traditional hamburgers. You'll have much better luck using the microwave to quickly brown crumbled meat for recipes. Remove the meat as it becomes cooked, in order to avoid overcooking problems.
2. Chicken- is it safe? Chicken has become the standard by which all newer microwaves are measured. In the early days of microwave cooking, chicken was strictly a no-no. Chicken has many layers and levels, which cook at different times. Microwaves tend to like foods that are simply designed, like a baked potato. When earlier microwaves tried to cook chicken, the results were usually disatrous, with raw chicken breasts competing with overcooked drumsticks and the entire mess looking positively funereal. Modern microwaves have adapted to foods with irregular cooking surfaces, and browning elements now give chicken a more pleasant appearance. If you plan on cooking chicken, use microwave-safe cookware that will keep the moisture inside, and use the browning element in your regular oven to finish off the cooking process.
3.Three-alarm microwave popcorn. We've all done it- left the popcorn bag in the microwave just a minute longer than necessary. The result is a bag full of blackened popcorn and a room full of the heaviest 'burnt food' smell possible. What went wrong? There's no one answer. Even the directions on the bag itself allow for variations on cooking time, anywhere from 2 minutes to 5 minutes. The problem lies within the microwave itself. Not all ovens are created equal, and power is everything when it comes to burning food.
Microwave popcorn is especially vulnerable to the subtle differences in cooking times. NEVER leave popcorn unattended in a microwave. DO NOT depend strictly on the recommended cooking times posted on the bag- they are rough guides at best. Your best bet is to listen for a definite slowing between pops, generally after the 3 minute mark has past. Better to have a few unpopped kernels than have an entire snack ruined, so pull out the bag as soon as you notice the slowing. Forgetting that the bag is even in the microwave can really mess up your entire day, so never set the timer for any longer than the longest recommended time on the bag.
4. Frozen dinners that just won't cooperate. If you've ever popped a frozen entree into the microwave oven and received a partially frozen entree in return, you may understand a little something about power and timing. First of all, read ALL of the cooking instructions before doing anything. If a lid is supposed to be partially opened before cooking, then do it. Same goes for compartments that need holes poked in them or the film removed or the box rotated during cooking. These instructions are meant to be helpful. Suggested cooking times are almost always relative, so be prepared to adjust accordingly. It is usually better to leave a product in the microwave until it is completely cooked, rather than discover uncooked portions and attempt to recook the entree. If your oven does not have a rotating device, then you should remember to do it yourself. It may seem like a waste of time to turn a package one quarter turn, but in microwave terms that rotation may be completely necessary for thorough cooking.
5. The goo monster all over the inside. Microwave technology was originally developed for communication, not for cooking. Consequently, microwave ovens always have that air of unpredictability built into them. You can only assume what MIGHT happen if you put a certain food item in the microwave. For the most part, the worst that can happen is a complete meltdown of the food. But in some cases, the power of the microwave can cause some mighty interesting explosions. Remember that microwaves cook food by creating friction from within. Once enough food atoms are rubbed together, heat is the result. This generated heat is supposed to cook the food and then stop when the oven is turned off. Some residual cooking action does occur, which is why manufacturers of microwavable foods recommend a few minutes of standing time. But if the item being cooked is in a sealed container, the pressure can build up until the final result is a nasty explosion of food. Eggs are a good example of a sealed container. NEVER microwave a raw egg, unless you puncture an opening in the shell. Never fully seal off food from the outside world, always leave some room for steam to escape.
6. Beware the arc monster. To say that metal objects cannot go into a microwave oven is the understatement of the year. This includes certain ceramic plates which may contain metallic elements. Aluminum foil can be disastrous, creating the condition known as 'arcing', when the microwaves strike the metallic surface and become electrified. An occasional mistake, such as forgetting to remove a metal spoon before cooking, should not ruin an oven, provided that you remove the metal promptly. Arcing becomes a much more serious problem the longer the oven is energized.
Inspect older ovens for signs of wear, especially on the bottom level. Any hole will be exploited by the power of the microwave, and can cause a fire by overheating. Be sure a dish is 'microwave safe' before attempting to use it as a food holder in the microwave. Certain food containers designed for microwave cooking may actually contain metal, but are designed to protect your oven from arcing. Children should be trained not to use metal in a microwave, especially aluminum packages that may seem safe enough for a microwave.