NEVER Use Black Magick

It just occurred to me that we have over looked one very important topic for the young cook in training. Morals.

No matter how advanced you become, no matter your skills, either natural or learned, there are simply some spells you do not cast. Not if you want to use the name of this school you don’t, at any rate.

I am speaking, of course, of microwave ovens. Black Magick.

Now, unlike in other aspects of my life, I’m not dogmatically Orthodox on this subject. If you’re reheating a cup of tea (not coffee) or reheating (fairly wet) left overs for lunch, then spells in this realm are just fine.

But I’m old enough to remember when these devices “went mainstream” and to remember the marketing that went along with that effort. Like much of the kitchen marketing in post-WWII America, it was all about freeing women from their enslavement in the kitchen (I will ignore for the moment that much of this marketing was done in a pre-feminist culture when almost no one actually wanted women out of the kitchen, thus making all such marketing very suspect). You can cook entire meals in SECONDS! This was the battle cry.

But very quickly people figured out that this was a very bad idea. If you followed the Recipes of the Space Age for making a pot roast in your new device, what you got was a fully cooked, hot, ready to eat, GRAY pot roast. In fact, all meat cooked in the microwave comes out basically gray. There’s no browning, no Maillard reaction. Belated attempts were made to market “browning pans” and to include dozens of preset elaborate combination of time and power levels, but in the end, people realized that proteins cooked this way were simply Bad Food[tm].

On the other hand, vegetables somehow didn’t get nearly the same level of bad press. Probably because it was exactly things like pot roasts, whole chickens &c. that had been at the core of the “set you free” marketing, not bags of frozen peas. But the reality is, if you take a fresh vegetable and microwave it, you’re almost certainly going to get a dish of slime.

There is one acceptable spell for dealing with frozen vegetables, but it involves what Alton Brown calls a “mono tasker” — a kitchen tool so specialized it only does one thing. Not all specialized tools are mono taskers, however. The “pizza cutter” is actually useful a shockingly wide array of tasks, for example. On the other hand, egg separators or cherry pitters only do one thing. Anyway. I must confess that I own a steamer device which is made of plastic, thus making it only useful in the microwave. I don’t remember if I bought it or if it was part of a wedding gift, or how I came to own it. But I do. And what I use it for is when I’m serving frozen vegetables as a lone side dish — which I rarely do. If you have an electric kettle, you can create boiling water, pour it in the base, add your frozen veggies to the top section, and then “nuke it”. The results are not unpleasant, in fact, they’re better than boiled. But honestly, if you throw frozen veggies into a cast iron skillet with a minimum of butter or oil, you get much better results than either boiling or microwave steaming.

So, reheat your tea and reheat your lunch. But beyond this, do not cast Black Magick.

2 thoughts on “NEVER Use Black Magick

  1. Oh? A Box of Nuking is used for more than reheating? Huh. (heh heh)

    But I also remember the marketing, the attempts, and the horrible failures at “cooking” in a microwave. Even when it comes to reheating, there are things I refused to reheat in a microwave because it changes them (super exciting water to the point of evaporation and exploding bits of fat can do that…). Rice is about the only thing I’ve found I can actually salvage in the microwave and that involves a lot of trial-and-error to find the right amount of water to add so that reheating doesn’t create something more fitting as an abrasive to scrub cauldrons or glue.

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