What to Do Without a Microwave
How life can continue to exist without owning this common household item
Who doesn’t have a microwave in this day and age? Well, me, for one. Several years ago, I realized how rarely I actually used my microwave and tossed it out (living in New York with minimal kitchen space causes you to make these seemingly rash choices). Have I missed it since? Maybe one or two times, when I was sick and would have rather nuked my frozen homemade chicken soup rather than thawing it overnight and then heating it in a pot.
However, I can happily say that life does go on without a microwave and it’s quite a delicious and hot-food-filled one. It is possible to succeed in the kitchen without owning one — you just have to know what to do to get by.
For new, microwave-free cooks, there is little more infuriating than purchasing a frozen food or an ingredient for a recipe and coming home to realize that there are only instructions for the microwave. These frustrating moments will soon be a distant memory after you read through the suggestions below (bookmarking the page might also help).
We tried to cover the basics, but please let us know if we missed something or if you know a great tip that we didn’t catch!
These generally come with instructions for cooking on the stovetop or oven. If not, depending on the dish, you can most likely cook it in the oven at moderate heat until warmed through, removing it from the plastic container if it’s in one, and placing it in a Pyrex or oven-safe dish. (But if you are going to go through this effort, it might be worth it to make your own dinner. Check out these quick and easy meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less.)
Microwavable popcorn is arguably one of the better inventions of the 20th century, but cooking it the old-fashioned way is actually quite easy. All you need are the popcorn kernels, a pot, some vegetable oil, and your stove (salt doesn’t hurt, either). Think popcorn is not complete without melted butter? Heat it in a small pan and then pour it on top (see below). Click here to see how to pop popcorn without a microwave.
To thaw frozen vegetables, like broccoli florets, you can place them in boiling water for about five minutes until they thaw. Then, continue cooking them as you normally would or as the recipe indicates — sautéing, roasting, or steaming are also options.
Defrosting and thawing foods is one of the trickier and more time-consuming tasks to do without a microwave. It’s best to plan ahead, taking out large pieces of meat, burger patties, sausages, soups, or other frozen, cooked dishes the night before and placing them in the fridge to thaw slowly for at least 24 hours. This also allows the thawing process to occur safely and more naturally, and creates a better taste in meat.
If you try to cook meat or soup without thawing, the result will not be very tasty. Meat tends to dry out whereas soups become watery and bland (a shadow of their former selves). Unfortunately, during moments that lacked patience, I have attempted such acts and the results were not satisfactory. (You can also thaw in cold water, but this is much more time-consuming and requires more attention than the refrigerator.)
My mother bought an electric tea kettle for me my first year out of college and, if I remember correctly, I scoffed at the present, thinking (and probably saying out loud) that I would never need this. Oh how wrong I was. Not only is this good for tea, but I also use it to heat water when I’m cooking pasta so that it cuts down on the boiling time. No need for the microwave when you have one of these bad boys. (Plus, it takes up much less space and can be tucked away in a cupboard when not needed.)
Alternatively, using a tea kettle or boiling water in a small pot is also an option (something our grandmothers are very familiar with).
Butter should be cooked over low heat in a small pot on the stovetop until melted. For chocolate, it is best to use a double boiler to avoid burning the chocolate. This can also be accomplished by placing a heatproof bowl snugly inside a pot of simmering water.
Microwaved pizza is something to be ashamed of. Simply place it on a sheet tray in the oven and reheat at moderate heat so that it doesn’t overcook or burn (it should be just heated through). Similarly, place bread in the oven on a sheet tray or under the broiler to make it crispy and toasted — we also don’t own a toaster oven. Believe it or not, your actual oven does many of the same things.
Soups, Pasta, or Rice Dishes
Adding a little liquid, like water or stock, to the pot while reheating on the stovetop will ensure that there will be no scorching. Make sure to cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, to prevent overcooking or burning. These can also be placed in a hot water bath to melt and soften, but if they are stored in plastic containers, this might not be the best option as the plastic could melt.
As food scientist Harold McGee writes in his book On Food and Cooking, when reheating meat that’s been cooked gently, it’s best to do it gently as well. For a stew, he recommends bringing the liquid to a boil, adding the meat, and then reducing the heat so that the meat gently warms through. As a safety note, he mentions that for meat that has not been cooked all the way through when placed in the fridge or freezer, it’s best to cook it all the way through when reheating and then shred the meat or cook it in a flavorful liquid in case it has dried out or lost any flavor.