Microwave cooking refers to the use of a specific tool rather than to a basic dry-heat or moist-heat cooking method.The microwave oven is used mostly for heating prepared foods and for thawing raw or cooked items. However, it can be used for primary cooking as well.
Microwave oven models range in power from about 500 watts up to about 2,000 watts.The higher the wattage, the more intense the energy the oven puts out and the faster it heats foods. Most models have switches that allow you to cook at different power levels.
One of the most important advantages of the microwave oven in a la carte cooking is that it enables you to heat individual portions of many foods to order quickly and evenly. Instead of keeping such foods as stews hot in the steam table, where they gradually become overcooked, you can keep them refrigerated (either in bulk or in individual portions) and reheat each order as needed.This is perhaps the main reason why most restaurants have one or more microwave ovens, even though they may not use them for primary cooking.
Because the microwave oven is a unique tool in food service, the cook should observe the following special points regarding its use:
1. Small items will not brown in a standard microwave. Large roasts may brown somewhat from the heat generated in the item itself. Some models have browning elements that use conventional heat.
2. Watch timing carefully. Overcooking is the most common error in microwave use. High energy levels cook small items very rapidly.
3. Large items should be turned once or twice for even cooking.
4. An on/off cycle is often used for large items to allow time for heat to be conducted to the interior.
5. If your equipment has a defrost cycle (which switches the oven to lower power), use this cycle rather than full power to thaw frozen foods. Lower power enables the item to thaw more evenly, with less danger of partially cooking it. If your oven does not have this feature,use an on/off cycle.
6. Sliced, cooked meats and other items that are likely to dry out in the microwave should be protected either by wrapping them loosely in plastic or wax paper or by covering them with a sauce or gravy.
7. Because microwaves act only on water molecules,foods with high water content, such as vegetables, heat faster than denser, drier foods, such as cooked meats.
8. Foods at the edge of a dish or plate heat faster than foods in the center.This is because they are hit by rays bouncing off the walls of the oven as well as by rays directly from the energy source.Therefore:
• Depress the center of casseroles so the food is not as thick there as at the edges.This will help it heat more evenly.
• When you are heating several foods at once on a plate, put the moist, quick-heating items like vegetables in the center and the denser, slower-heating items at the edges.
9. Because microwaves do not penetrate metal, aluminum foil and other metals shield foods from the radiant energy. For example, a potato wrapped in foil will not cook in a microwave oven.
With older machines, it was a general rule not to put any metal in the oven, as the radiation could bounce off the metal and damage the magnetron (the oven's generator).With newer machines, it is possible to heat foods in foil pans and to shield certain parts of the food by covering them with pieces of foil so they do not overheat. Follow the procedures recommended by the manufacturer.
Because microwaves cook so rapidly, they will not break down the connective tissues of less tender meats. Slow, moist cooking is necessary for dissolving these connective tissues.
The more food placed in a microwave at once, the longer the cooking time.Thus, the primary advantage of microwave cooking—speed—is lost with large roasts and other large quantities.
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