The microwave — if you’re like me it’s practically just a one-use appliance for heating up leftovers (though it also makes a great clock). But I do have one invaluable trick I use it for: making perfectly browned breadcrumbs (more on that later). Which got me thinking: Do other cooks have secret microwave tricks they’re not sharing — could this everyday appliance actually make food taste better, not just warm it up?
So I went to the experts. Chefs and food writers aren’t necessarily proponents of microwave cooking, but they’re a pragmatic bunch and use the best tools to get the job done. Here are the handiest microwave tricks I found.
1. Fry herbs in the microwave for a quick, flavourful garnish
Canadian chef Mandom Hui uses a microwave to crisp up basil leaves. He learned this quick technique from Modernist Cuisine, a six-volume tome on the science of cooking with an entire section devoted to the microwave. The cookbook’s leading author, Nathan Myhrvold, has called the microwave “an underappreciated thing in the kitchen.”
To make Modernist Cuisine‘s fried herbs, simply rub the leaves with oil and arrange them on top of a plastic-wrapped plate and then zap til crispy. Sprinkle them on top of pasta, meat dishes or salads for a next-level garnish.
2. Microwave your eggs for the ultimate breakfast sandwich
Food writer Dan Clapson reviews restaurants in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba for the Globe and Mail. He uses his microwave to cook perfectly formed eggs for his breakfast sandwiches. “Beat some eggs lightly and pour them into small heat-safe bowls. Microwaving gives them a more consistent size and height when you’re assembling a breakfast sandwich. I always use an English muffin, so the roundness you get from nuking an egg in a bowl is perfect. Top it with some cheddar cheese, a few pickles, tomato slices and mustard and that, my friends, is a decent start to the day!”
3. You can clarify butter in a snap with a microwave
If you haven’t clarified butter in a microwave, do it once and you’ll quickly become a convert. All you need is a Pyrex measuring cup (or an equivalent -sized glass jar) and some butter. Cut 1/2 cup of butter into 1-inch chunks and add to a Pyrex measuring cup. While keeping watch, heat the butter on medium until melted and starting to rise up. Wait for it to settle, it should separate into three layers: foam, clarified butter in the middle and water. Heat once more if the layers have not quite separated. Cool slightly, scoop off the foam, gently pour the clarified butter layer into a jar for storage, discard the water at the bottom. If you clarify butter on the stovetop, you won’t be able to see the layers as clearly.
Clarified butter, which is very similar to ghee (ghee is heated longer and has a nuttier taste), has a much higher smoke-point for frying (400 F) than regular butter because you remove the water and milk solids that don’t stand up to high heat. Clarified butter allows you to add amazing flavour to dishes such as sautéed veggies, fried breaded cutlets, eggs and steak without worrying about burning.
4. Frozen foods actually taste better zapped than baked
Forget trying to feel like you’re kinda-sorta cooking something homemade by heating up frozen fast food in the oven. If the instructions say you can microwave the food — just do it. “Most crappy frozen foods, like pizza pockets, get better results in the zapper,” says chef Matthew Hunt-Foley, who is currently on a sabbatical and enjoying a steady diet of Pizza Pockets.
5. The best way to make bread crumbs is in the microwave
Now time for my favourite trick. The microwave is not known for its browning abilities, but hear me out. Take a bowl of storebought breadcrumbs (or Japanese panko) and microwave it for 25-30 seconds at a time, stirring each time. You will notice the crumbs start to turn golden after a few rounds. Keep going until you have achieved golden brown perfection (usually after four rounds or two minutes).
This is especially great when you’re doing a breadcrumb coat on baked items, where they might not brown up as much as they would fried in a pan. I think we can all agree that oven-baked chicken fingers look more tantalizing when they’ve got some colour.