If there was a kitchen appliance that was more misunderstood than the microwave, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. To give you an example of what we mean, The Joy of Cooking, a go-to cookbook for American cuisine, calls the experience of cooking in a microwave an "inadequate response to great expectations." While the microwave will never replace the stove or oven in terms of bringing out a depth of flavor in foods, believe it or not, it’s capable of a lot more than heating up TV dinners. It's a lifesaver for college students and a space-hogging leftover warmer for home cooks, but neither of these groups really appreciates the microwave’s full potential. Used properly, a microwave can act as a shortcut to time-consuming dishes, and it can cook many foods from scratch just as well as, or better than, the stovetop can.
In order to get satisfying results from your microwave, you have to learn the rules of the game. First, understand your microwave’s heat settings. The higher a microwave’s wattage, the faster it cooks. At a lower setting, such as 500 watts, your microwave is like a dehydrator, but at a higher setting, such as 800 watts, a microwave’s capabilities are akin to steaming or frying (all recipes in this story assume a default "high" setting). Foods high in water content — such as vegetables, fruits, greens, and fish — cook best in the microwave. Almost any vegetable steams to perfection in a microwave, cooked in a covered bowl with a little bit of water. Finally, learn to take it slow. Keep close tabs on the food you cook in a microwave, because it’s much easier to add on time than make up for a tough, overcooked dish.
The microwave may never live up to a gourmet cook’s high expectations, but its potential can certainly surprise even the most seasoned gourmand. Beyond steamed vegetables, foods such as cake, eggs, jam, and even potato chips, are all within the microwave’s range. To boot, the microwave can cook all of these foods in record time: none of these dishes takes more than 20 minutes to complete, start to finish. In a world where we are all hard-pressed to find time in the day to get a homemade meal on the table, that may be the best reason of all to give your microwave a second look.