Nuked Food: Alternatives

Consider the pizza slice re-heated in a wood-burning pizza oven. Perfection. Image by auchard via Flickr

Do you nuke your food? Cook it in a microwave? I don’t own a microwave, and never have. Whenever I’ve thought about buying one I ask: Why?

There’s a host of arguments for and against using microwave ovens. An internet search of hazards of cooking with microwave ovens will pull up 2,680,000 results. Clearly the pros are winning the internet-page battle, as benefits of microwave ovens produces 7,710,000 results! Nonetheless, here are some alternatives to consider.


amazing microwave
Consider a pizza slice re-heated in a microwave oven.  Dried out and hard as rock in spots, soggy in others.  Image by jmv via Flickr

Let’s face it, microwave ovens are convenient, the most convenient thing you’d ever want in a kitchen. Great for baking potatoes in a hurry, or cooking just about anything else quickly, but most of all they’re great for warming up food, especially for people who live alone.  Who wants to turn on a big oven just heat up food for one person?

Anything with a crust, or anything that needs crisping – things like pies and croissants, neither of which do well in microwaves – need to go in a proper oven, or a toaster oven.

Toaster oven
Image via Wikipedia

Toaster ovens seem to have almost been forgotten in the microwave, nuked-food craze, but they’ll cook almost anything.  Even roast a whole chicken!  They can also produce wicked baked goods – especially small cakes, brownies, or scones. For heating up prepared meals, pies or croissants you can’t beat ’em.

Image by bluelizardworld via Flickr

Frying Pan

If all you have is a hob, or stove top, you can still warm-up pies and croissants, garlic breads, baked potatoes and various other foods in a non-stick frying pan.  The trick is to set the temperature as low as you can and still have heat.  This works really well for things like croissants.

Place the croissant in the heated pan over low heat, put a lid on it and leave it for a couple of minutes, then turn it over and do the other side.  It might take some experimentation and patience to get the right temperature to do this successfully, but it does work.  In fact it works for just about anything you might normally put in the oven.  Adding a very little water or oil can also help, but it’s not usually necessary.  A wire rack in the bottom of the frying pan is also useful.  It will lift whatever you’re cooking or heating off the direct heat and allow the heat to circulate around it more freely thereby preventing burning.  Patience and willingness to experiment are the keys to success.

Recipe: Frying Pan Pizza 


Bamboo steamer
Image by kattebelletje via Flickr

If you don’t have a toaster oven, you can heat-up a plate of food on top of a pot of boiling water.  Just put your china plate on top of the pot, cover it with a heat proof something – aluminum foil, another plate, a lid, a frying pan turned upside down – and let the boiling water do the heating.

Lone Bamboo Steamer
Image by SetoTheTech via Flickr

Better still, if you have a steamer, you can heat the food in the top of that. As the steam makes direct contact with the food, it will heat up much more quickly than the plate-on-a-pot-of-boiling-water method.  Get a supply of aluminum foil pie plates that fit inside your steamer rather than on top of it.  A large bamboo steamer – or Mushiki – available in Oriental markets, will usually accommodate one of those plates and when you prepare your meals, arrange the food on the aluminum plates.  Easy to freeze a stack of them, and just as easy to heat in a steamer.

Sounds like a lot of hassle living without a microwave?  Depends on your priorities. Besides, there’s a reason pizza tastes so much better when it’s cooked in a wood-burning clay or brick oven.  Somethings just can’t be cooked successfully in a microwave, and there are plenty of alternatives for the things that a microwave does do well.

What does a microwave do well?  Heat up frozen vegetables?  You can do that in saucepan on top of the stove.

Microwave Oven Grew Out of War Technology

Before you check out this video about the History of the Microwave Oven consider these quotes taken from the voice over:

“The war would soon be ending and Raytheon needed new products for peacetime ecomony…”  2:55

“…their task: to overhaul this military technology into a household appliance….” 3:22

It’s wonderful that something used for the war could be developed into something with a household use.  It’s wonderful that a business devoted to military-technology was able to find a new direction to keep itself going after the war and thereby keep people in jobs and create new jobs.

What disturbs me is that the effects of cooking with a microwave, on the food and the people preparing and eating it, isn’t at the top of the list of things discussed in this history lesson.  And we can be sure, if there’s a potentially negative impact, it’s been glossed over.

The microwave oven is a remarkable invention.  But do we really need it? And might we be better off without it?   Could – and would – you live without a microwave?

If eating microwave cooked food was proven hazardous, what would that mean for the microwave oven industry?

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