More like Adventures in Electronic Cooking. Personally, I swore off the microwave right after the instant ramen years of early college (1998). I honestly never touched one of the things until Jessica moved in with hers four years ago. It certainly was an indispensable member of our kitchen appliance team in my household growing up, which was just about right on the microwave popularity timeline (got big in the mid to late 70s). Reheating leftovers, of course (and my primary use for the one we’ve got at the house); after school nachos, you bet; I even cooked my first dish ever in the micro… dandelion soup (the unsuspecting neighbor girl got to enjoy that one). And at some point mom started to nuke all of our veggies, which it turns out actually does preserve their nutrients better than other methods of cooking.
But you see, as soon as I fancied myself a serious cook, who prepared everything from scratch– no shortcuts for me– I denounced cooking with electromagnetic radiation as amateurish and too easy. So when my bud and prior PClub collaborator, Matt Zatkoff pitched the idea to prepare a several course meal ~actual gastronomy~ using nothing but the microwave, it sounded absurd enough to be worth a shot. Plus he had all these groovy old school cookbooks with soft lit 1970’s food porn and destined-to-become-hip-again retro recipes like Turkey Divan and Noodles Romanoff. Turns out it was not such a convenient and time efficient method to cook complicated recipes for a crowd, but challenging is the Piranha Club trip, so let’s have at it…
We sautéed, simmered, deep fried, roasted, and baked using three microwaves for each and every element of the meal (except for one emergency assist from the micro’s older cousin, the toaster oven (leaving it up to you to figure out how we used it)). For one of the apps, curried meatballs, we followed a recipe verbatim from the cookbook at the top of this post. The second course, $5000 Fiesta Chicken Kiev was interpreted from an “award winning” recipe in this lovely volume above, the Hotpoint Countertop Microwave Oven Cookbook. We kept the cheese cracker crust (Cheezits, of course), but subbed in real minced onions rather than dehydrated and (microwave) roasted poblanos, subbing for canned green chiles. Matt applied expert techniques from this tome written by the foremost authority on the subject to his favorite recipes for stuffed mushroom caps (with a Thanksgiving stuffing profile) and Fettucine Gamberetti, for which he hand made pasta and tossed it in vodka cream sauce with gulf shrimp and his homemade guanciale. A side of Tomatoes au Gratin and the dessert, Pineapple Upside Down Cake were made following recipes from, again, the Hotpoint cookbook.
As I’ve alluded to, cooking this many complex dishes was not a breeze. Some reflections on cooking (pretty much) only using the microwave oven:
* Nuking vegetables, until just cooked, not only preserves nutrients, but also flavor. Our in-season corn that we zapped for about 2 minutes for a salsa cruda we served with the 5K chicken was perfectly crisp and as sweet as can be. The mushrooms and in-season tomatoes also sang true to their inherent savorinesses.
* While its hard to get any caramelized color on meat, if you cook it, again, for the right length of time, it retains moisture and has a great texture. Worth noting: Matt has a small collection of old fangled microwave cooking supplies like Mirocrisp brand browning wrap, which didn’t prove to be very effective. A browning pan with a built in heating coil, really did heat up faster and retained heat. We used this to sauté veggies and deep fry the chicken.
* Somehow, the roux in a flour thickened sauce binds to the liquid with barely any babysitting. For the curry sauce, I merely stirred the sauce with a spoon once in the middle of its cooking time. It came out velvety smooth.
* When cooking in liquids, its tricky to get the water or oil back up to temp as fast as you can with a screaming hot burner, after you’ve submerged the ingredients. This is what fucked us the most, particularly since at this volume, we were adding too much cold chicken to the oil. So, if you’re going to deep fry (and we suggest the browning pan for this) use the oil with the highest smoke point possible and monitor its temp. 350 degree oil will drop considerably when you add 40 degree chicken and the micro takes a few minutes to regain the heat. We also lost a batch of pasta to water that had not reached a boil, waterlogging the noodles. Also, we really crowded our pans, this is a simple lesson in cooking, give your ingredients space to be enveloped in heat. Maybe we should have used 5 micros.
* A 9″ X 9″ pan of cake cooked unevenly, pretty classic– cooked edges, gooey center.
* Finally, and this may have been a thread amongst all our woes juggling 3 different microwave ovens– not all microwaves are built the same, they range in power from 700 to 1600 watts and older models, like the ones used in our fancy old cookbooks could have been as low as 600 watts. Learn your power settings (I let Matt do this), you can adjust them at several levels on most microwaves.
Despite a harried service, everyone seemed stoked on the meal. Basically 100% clean plates. I even received the highest compliment a chef can receive these days, Amazeballs.