Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Silver Lining

Yours might be a sad home of leftovers and Easy Mac, but chefs across the country are using the microwave to take their culinary exploits to new heights. (Yes, really.)

But this ubiquitous appliance wasn’t born a chef’s favorite. According to Wired magazine, the microwave first came into existence in the 1940s. In 1945, engineer Percy Spencer discovered the heating effect of microwaves. and in 1947 Radarange built the first microwave, which stood at a staggering six feet and weighed a hefty 750 pounds.

After two decades of redesign, households finally began to pick up the new invention when the price finally dropped from $2,000-$3,000 to $500 per unit.

The inner workings of a microwave are even more complex than its expansive history. Here’s the mechanism in brief: The machine passes (you guessed it) microwaves over food, creating an alternating magnetic field. This causes the water molecules in food to realign — sort of like a magnet — and the movement causes the food to heat up.

Though a staple in most households today, articles on the microwave’s negative effects (don’t stand too close!) flood news feeds regularly, and it continues to play second fiddle to bigger, flashier kitchen appliances, making it one of the most under-appreciated household fixtures of our time.

But some of our favorite chefs and foodies not only understand the merits of a microwave, but make liberal use of the device in their own cooking. Here’s a list of their favorites, and ours:

Artichoke lemon risotto — from Barbara Kafka, author of Microwave Gourmet, and James Beard award winner

In a 2008 interview with The New York Times, Barbara Kafka told reporter Mark Bittman that the best item to microwave was “Vegetables. Their color is better, their flavor is better, you have no water dripping and there are studies that show they retain more vitamins.” So, in keeping with the microwave-pioneer’s words of wisdom, here’s her savory artichoke lemon risotto.

Grab six tablespoons of olive oil, one cup of minced onion, two cups of Arborio rice, six cups of vegetable broth, one can of artichoke hearts, the zest and juice of two lemons and one tablespoon of kosher salt.

Mix the onions and olive oil in a microwave-safe dish and put them in the microwave, uncovered, for three minutes. Add the broth, and cook the mixture for 12 minutes. Then add the artichokes, and cook for six minutes. Finally, add the lemon, cook the concoction for another two minutes, and salt as needed. The whole mixture serves six to eight people.

Salmon with crème fraiche — from Beth Hensperger, author of Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook

California-raised Hensperger learned her culinary art in the Bay Area’s Palo Alto, eventually moving on to Los Angeles’ Epicurious and then back to San Francisco to start her own catering company.

For Hensperger’s salmon, you’ll need four sheets of parchment paper, two tablespoons of unsalted butter (room temperature), four (six- to eight-) ounce salmon fillets with the skin, eight tablespoons of crème fraiche, salt and freshly ground pepper, one cup of zucchini julienned, one cup of sliced white mushrooms and eight teaspoons of diced fresh dill.

Fold each piece of paper in half, and spread the butter below the parchment’s crease and then put the salmon (seasoned with salt and pepper) on top.

On each filet, add two tablespoons of crème fraiche and two teaspoons dill. Then divide the greens amongst the packets (the zucchini and the mushrooms) and season like the salmon, folding over the parchment when you’re done.

Place the packets in the microwave, and cook on high for three minutes.

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