I never realized just how much I relied on my microwave until I didn’t have one. When I moved into my first adult apartment and discovered it wasn’t equipped with one, I was panicked. Suddenly, tasks that had been so simple became annoyingly complicated: I had to dirty a whole pot if I wanted to melt butter, fill up a kettle to boil water, or actually wait for my ice cream to soften (the horror!). Having to do all these extra steps made it harder to focus on the things that actually needed my attention, and my food suffered as a result. After months of trying to make it work, I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally invested in my own microwave, and I’ve appreciated it so much more ever since.
Recently, I’ve even noticed that chefs sing the praises of microwaves, because the appliance is really that useful. “[Microwaves are] convenient for multitasking, especially if you already have a few items cooking on the stove or are simply busy with other tasks so that if you get tied up, you don’t have to worry about burning anything,” Kathy Fang, two-time Chopped champion and owner of Fang in San Francisco, tells SELF. “It’s also a much faster method of cooking, ideal for beginners as it cuts down cooking time and prepping steps.”
Here, Fang and other food experts explain all their favorite things to do with a microwave that minimize prep, cooking, and cleanup time—plus, some quick and easy dishes you can make with the handy appliance.
Because microwaves work by targeting and heating up water, Abbey Sharp, R.D., blogger and author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook, says that they can also be a great tool for drying herbs. However, she says it’s better to stick with heartier herbs like rosemary or thyme, because more delicate herbs like mint or basil can’t stand up to the strength of a microwave. To do it yourself, put the herbs between two paper towels and microwave them on high for 2 to 3 minutes.
Peel garlic faster
Sick of having dry and smelly garlic hands from all the peeling you’ve been doing? Let your microwave do the work instead. “Simply put a whole head of garlic into the microwave for about 15-20 seconds on high and the cloves easily come out of their skin,” Sharp says.
According to Fang, her grandfather would often steam fish in the microwave to guarantee it wouldn’t overcook—and the method consistently turns out perfectly cooked results. To do it yourself, simply set your fish of choice in a shallow bowl. Top it with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt, pepper and any other spices you want to use, then fill the bowl with several inches of water, cover it tightly with microwave-safe plastic wrap and use a fork to poke a few holes to allow for ventilation. Then, cook on high for six to seven minutes.
Ripen a banana
When Buddy Valastro, owner of Buddy V’s Ristorante, can’t wait for a bunch of bananas to ripen enough to bake with them, he uses his microwave to speed up the process. To do it yourself, use a fork to poke holes all over the banana (this will keep it from exploding). Then, pop it in the microwave for a minute or two.
Melt butter or chocolate
“Softening butter and melting chocolate are two of the things that I use my microwave for the most,” Mike DeCamp, executive chef and owner at the newly opened P.S. Steak in Minneapolis, tells SELF. And there’s really no reason to dirty any extraneous tools for these simple tasks, Daniela Moreira, executive chef and co-owner of Call Your Mother in D.C., explains.
“For melting chocolate, everybody uses the bain-marie technique, where you have to be paying attention and it takes forever,” she explains, “put it in the microwave and forget about it.” To avoid burning your chocolate, cook it in 30-second increments, stirring in between each time. This will help evenly disperse the heat and prevent burning.