Microwave, Schmicrowave

I FINALLY bought my first microwave.

Nah.

Just kidding.

April Fool’s!! A day late.

I’ve never had a microwave. And I plan to live the rest of a full and satisfying life without ever owning a microwave. This week’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about microwave manufacturer’s trying to breathe some new life into the ubiquitous appliance only renews my feeling that I’m making the right choice.

I’m not old enough to remember when the first microwave oven was released (apparently first developed in 1947, home versions started hitting stores by the mid 1960s). But I am old enough to recall the plethora of microwave cookbooks that came out throughout the 1980s. Never did any of that hoopla make me in the least bit anxious that my family should get a microwave (we never did in the family home, I think everyone but me has one now). I was excited about cooking back then, very much so. But I was excited about making food from scratch, creating doughs, simmering stocks to make onion soup, dipping beautiful vegetables in batter and frying them for tempura, making sauces for beef fondue. Nothing about the microwave excited me as I was discovering cooking. And nothing about it has ever excited me in the days since then.

Yes, yes, yes. I hear across the web-o-sphere, “but you can melt butter so quickly!” “coffee reheats like a dream!” “What about leftovers?!?!” “Did ya know it will soften ice cream?” I’ve heard those arguments a thousand times.

1. I have small pans I put on the stove in which to melt butter nearly as quickly. Very old-school but works like a dream.

2. Who the hell wants reheated coffee? I make mine one cup at a time and it’s delicious. (Also no coffee maker in this house, just a simple cone filter and ground-to-order coffee beans. Wouldn’t want it any other way.)

3. I have a wonderful small pyrex lidded baking dish that’s ideal for heating leftover pasta, curry, enchilada, whatever came home with me from the restaurant the night before. I pop it in the oven, go work for 15 more minutes and it’s hot and ready to go.

4. Take ice cream from freezer and set on kitchen counter. Go watch 7 or 8 minutes of Damages or Dexter or M*A*S*H reruns and then the ice cream will be perfect for scooping.

While I was editor of Simply Seafood magazine, we did run a few feature articles about cooking fish in the microwave. The less dense texture, often smaller pieces/thin fillets and other magical characteristics of seafood do seem to make it one of the better selections when it comes to cooking raw proteins on the microwave. But even that never persuaded me since fish is, for those same reasons, incredible quick to cook in a skillet or 400 degree oven. For 2 or 3 minutes’ saving of time, I’m going to get a microwave oven? Kind of ironic, but in most other facets of my life the last thing I am is patient. When it comes to cooking, however, I feel the time invested is time well spent. And we’re talking minutes, not hours. I just don’t get it!

I found it kind of funny to read that a new development in the microwave world is adding steam, “aimed at people who are in the market for an oven with special features but not necessarily a microwave.”  See?? Even the manufacturers are realizing the limitations of the box of waves that go micro. I think of the microwave as a wholly unnecessary use of kitchen real estate, and much as folks have tried to convince me otherwise, I’m pretty strong in that conviction.

Just a week or so ago, a friend told me–after having read through many of the recipes in my new book–that I really needed to get a microwave because some of the tasks in the book could have been done in a microwave. To which my answer was (a) “no, nuh-uh, no way” and (b) if a microwave owner reads my description of putting chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and setting it over a pan of warm water to melt and thinks “duh, I can do that in the microwave” more power to them!! Happy if they find ways to use the microbox to shave a minute off the prep time. But I’m not going to be the one to tell them how to do that. It’s a shortcoming of mine as a food writer and I’m willing to accept that.

It does pain me to read that this past year there was a nearly 10% jump in the number of meals “prepared” (I think they mean “opened the box and heated”) using a microwave oven last year. The first sizeable jump in decades, they say. Is anyone really prepared to consider this “cooking”? I–for a second–was willing to concede that if a microwave oven got someone interested in cooking to the degree that it set the stage for them to pull out a skillet or bake something in an old-fashioned oven now and then…well that there was something to getting people to “cook” in whatever form it takes. But I’m not sure the microwave is a gateway to home-cooked meals from scratch. Am I out of line thinking that way? Does the average microwave user nuke burritos for dinner one night and make chicken and dumplings from scratch the next? Is it a crutch just used now and then, rather than a means to the end of most meals in the house?

But I was likewise surprised to read that only “93% of households have a microwave oven.” I’d have thought it much closer to 100%, given the plethora of products being created just with the microwave oven in mind. (Oddly, I just realized that this household has 3 Easy Bake ovens…. and no microwave. An anomaly in many ways.)

Oh, and about that new steam capability for the microwave oven…. Wait until I tell you about the bamboo steamer baskets you can buy for less than ten bucks.

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7 Comments

Filed under cooking at home

7 responses to “Microwave, Schmicrowave

  1. You’ve convinced me. The microwave is an unnecessary device.

    However, I’ve heard you can put fish in the top rack of the dishwasher and run it without any soap and get a nice steamed result.

    You do have a dishwasher…don’t you?

  2. We don’t own a microwave. We haven’t for more than 5 years. John hasn’t had one in about 10 years.

    Other than kind of weirdly missing microwave popcorn on occasion (I know it’s total cr@p, but it’s also oddly addictive), and the occasional lazy wish for a very quick reheat of leftover soup, I don’t want one.

    I’m all for taking a few extra minutes with those simple tasks like melting butter. Plus, to my knowledge, butter melted on the stove has never exploded – unlike the butter I microwaved six years ago.

  3. I would be quite content without a microwave; however, the hubby simply can’t live without one. Even if for nothing else than to pop popcorn! When our previous microwave conked out, I was at least able to talk him into a microwave/convection model. So, I also have an extra oven for our holiday dinners.

  4. Eric Clarke

    I’m so with you on this–I lived for years and years without a microwave, and the only reason I have one now is that Mom left it here when she moved back to the PNW. As for #2: ABSOLUTELY. I only make coffee in my macchinetta. And I would rather drink it cold than zap it! And btw, I love my bamboo steamers–bok choi tastes utterly regal when placed in that wonderful lo-tech contraption.

  5. Steven Davis

    I hate microwave ovens – anything that magically cooks food can’t be good. I don’t like the taste or texture of microwaved foods. The only good thing about my microwave? It’s secured above my range – there’s a great light on the bottom I can turn on when I’m cooking!

  6. I’m with you, Cynthia. Never had a microwave and never wanted one. It baffles my parents and the occasional guest who wants to heat something up in the microwave, but for myself, I’ve never understood the attraction.

  7. Vining

    We don’t own a microwave & when in our apartment we only used it twice in 3 years; for bacon. Ditto for salt & pepper shakers (grinder and mortar & pestle) and steak knives (properly cooked meat doesn’t need sawing!)

    Folks think it odd when they come over and my kids just roll their eyes and say that counter space is better spent on space to work!

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