The Science of Microwave: How To Use it With a Gourmet Twist

One of the most famous kitchen appliances helps you while preparing complex and gourmet recipes: the only thing you need to know is a bit of science.

The microwave is one of the most famous kitchen appliances as well as a controversial one, at least according to true gourmands: microwave food is generally anonymous, especially if you use the microwave in a conventional manner, so to speak. If you learn how it actually works, it can become your new best friend for more complex recipes.

Let’s start with the name: it’s called “a microwave oven” because it works with microwaves. It’s a particular kind of wave, in between radio waves and infrared. Just to give you an idea, it’s somewhere in between a WIFI and a remote. The waves are almost innocuous and hold interesting properties: they are absorbed by fat, water and sugar. Once they’ve been absorbed, they generate heat. The waves aren’t absorbed by materials such as plastic, glass or ceramics. Metal reflects the waves, reason why it’s better not to use metallic plates.

The Science of Microwave

When we cook in a traditional oven, lets say a cake, heat goes from the outside to the inside. First you heat the top then the inside. If we go too high on the temperature, we might end up burning the cake ‘s crust and undercook it inside. A microwave allows you to penetrate the cake and reach water, sugar and fat molecules. Once the waves reach these molecules, they go “crazy” and “ignite” the atoms, the resulting heat cooks the cake from the inside. It’s a simple explanation, but enough to let you understand how it works. Not only: thanks to a microwave’s way of functioning, you can only go as high as 100 °C.

On these premises, we can understand why meat is not a good thing to cook with a microwave. A rib roast, for example, requires a much higher temperature, directly touching the outside in order to create a Maillard reaction (you can read more about here). Only under these circumstances, meat becomes caramelized and acquires that delicious taste. A microwave tends to boil the meat, the result is depressing, and not a single food lover will want to eat it!

How to perfect the art of cooking with a microwave? It’s not about technique, only a matter of using the right food. You have to eliminate certain foods such as grilled meat, this method won’t work. As we mentioned above, better start with fatty foods full of sugar and water, and avoid proteins. The best example is caramel. It’s actually a pain to make using a saucepan. If you microwave it, it’s another story. You need a pot, sugar and water. After a few seconds, your microwave will have made the best caramel you’ve ever tasted. Another surprising recipe? Duck. Thanks to its skin, it doesn’t require a Maillard reaction and can use all of the advantages of a microwave. The recipe is simple: you need duck thighs, butter, orange liquor, salt, a pan and of course, a microwave. Heat the butter in the pan, brown the thighs, salt at the end. When they are done browning, soak with paper. Use a kitchen syringe to put the liquor inside the meat in a few spots. Place the thighs in a microwave adaptable container and place it in the microwave. We can’t really give you a timing, each machine is different: just look up the manual to figure out the best parameters. What matters is what happens inside the microwave. The microwaves act on the liquid, the alcohol vaporizes and gives aroma to the meat. When you take it out of the microwave, it’s ready to be served, nothing else required. If you think people use microwave only to warm milk, it makes you smile.

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