When the microwave first came out in the 1950s, it was innovative and sexy. But almost 70 years later, it’s often frowned upon, conjuring the image of bland TV dinners and “nuking.” Now, the Instant Pot and air fryer take the spotlight as coveted kitchen appliances.
But the microwave still wins in terms of simplicity and range. With a push of a button, it can quickly make oatmeal, veggies, rice or even quesadillas. And that’s on top of reheating leftovers, one of its most popular functions.
Contrary to popular opinion, microwaved food (if done properly) can taste just as good as if it were cooked on the stove or in the oven. As with cooking in general, the key is having a few tricks. Fortunately, chefs (yes, even chefs microwave food) aren’t stingy about sharing their secrets.
Ready to elevate your microwave meals with minimal effort? Keep reading for their tips.
How to make leftovers taste like something you literally just made
For many people, the number one use for their microwave is reheating leftovers. If you’re making a meal and you know you’re not going to eat it all in one sitting, chef Carla Contreras, who has been on ”Chopped!” And hosts the ”Show Up Fully” podcast, said the first step to making it taste amazing when you reheat it later is to store it properly.
“Store things separately,” Contreras said. “For example, if you’re making pasta, store the noodles in a different container than the sauce.” That way, when you reheat the foods, they will more closely taste like when you just made them. After all, freshly made foods aren’t hanging out together for days before you plate them.
When you’re done microwaving the different parts of your leftover meal, chef Ali Slagle recommends adding something fresh to it, such as thinly sliced scallions, herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice. You may also need to pull out the spices that you originally used when making your meal.
“Flavors shift in the fridge and also once the food is reheated in the microwave, so be sure to taste whatever you’ve microwaved and adjust seasonings until it tastes great – and not like leftovers,” Slagle said.
How to upgrade your instant oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is a classic breakfast go-to, especially during the coldest months of the year. But if all that’s accompanying your oats are the tiny bits of freeze-dried fruit that come in the package, you’re doing it wrong.
“Oh gosh, those dried little berries or peaches – take ’em out,” Contreras said. Replace them with frozen berries, she said. Add them to your bowl of oatmeal and water (or milk, if you’re fancy), and zap it for about a minute. “Frozen fruit adds texture, flavor and moisture,” Contreras said.
Slagle said spices make a big difference, too. Personally, she sticks to the classics – brown sugar and cinnamon. But then she throws salt and black pepper in as a wildcard. “It keeps the oatmeal from tasting too sweet,” she said.
Contreras recommends warming spices like cardamom or pumpkin pie spice, which also add flavor.
Who needs a rice cooker when you have a microwave?
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How to make rice in the microwave
Rice can be made in the microwave, which is key info if you’re in a dorm room and don’t have access to a full kitchen. To microwave rice, the liquid-to-dry rice ratio should be 2:1. According to Steamy Kitchen blogger Jaden Rae, put it in a microwave-safe container and microwave on high for five minutes, then on 50% power for five more minutes.
Slagle recommends using coconut milk instead of water. “It makes it rich, creamy, and a little sweet,” she said.
One super easy dinner is microwaved rice with canned beans, Slagle said. “The starchy liquid they’re canned with makes the rice extra creamy, like risotto without stirring,” she said.
You can buy rice that’s literally made to be microwaved. Typically, it comes in a pouch. Contreras said a common mistake is microwaving it right in the pouch. Instead, pour the rice into a bowl, cover it with a damp paper towel and then microwave it.
“If you keep it in the pouch, the heat won’t get to all the rice evenly,” Contreras said. The damp paper towel creates moisture, which keeps the rice from drying out while it’s being blasted with high heat in the microwave.
Don't want to get out a pan? You can make melty quesadillas in the microwave.
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How to microwave quesadillas to perfection every time
Microwaving quesadillas can tricky because it’s easy to accidentally burn the cheese. “Because of this, it’s best to microwave these foods in 10- to 15-second increments so you can keep checking on it,” Contreras said. The babysitting will pay off because your quesadillas will ultimately taste like they were cooked in the oven.
When making a quesadilla, place the tortilla inside a clean kitchen towel folded in half, inside the microwave, Contreras said. Do this before adding cheese, microwaving for 20 seconds. Once the tortilla is warm, add the cheese. Then, fold the tortilla and place it back in the kitchen towel before microwaving it for 10 more seconds. Without the towel, the microwave’s high heat can change the texture of the tortilla; using the towel will make them taste freshly made.
How to steam veggies in the microwave
You might have come across bags of veggies that are specifically made to be steamed in the microwave. Smart, right? Even if they come preseasoned, both chefs offer the same tip on making them extra delicious after you’re done steaming them in the microwave: add a fat before you dig in. This can be coconut oil, olive oil or butter.
After microwaving, ”embellish with toppings that bring big flavor, whether a chili oil or paste, briny ingredients like olives and capers, or something acidic like mustard or vinegar,” Slagle said.
These easy tweaks to the foods you’re already microwaving will give your meal a major upgrade. And it takes virtually zero time and effort. Suddenly, that microwave is looking a whole lot sexier, huh?