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Yes, you can prepare a three course meal in a microwave

That familiar ping can only mean one thing. Instead of being slowly cooked in the oven or stirred on the stovetop, your dinner will go from cold (or worse, frozen) to hot in minutes… in the microwave.

It’s a dirty word in culinary circles. Such is the snobbery surrounding microwaves that Gordon Ramsay says they are the domain of “lazy cooks”, while Raymond Blanc likens their use to “an act of hatred”.

Even Mary Berry, who dedicated an entire book to microwave cooking in 1988, now swears she wouldn’t use hers for anything other than warming up a cup of cold coffee.

And yet there are those of us who – whisper – can’t get enough of the humble microwave. 93 percent of us have one in our kitchen — a number that has doubled since the 1990s.

Even Mary Berry, who dedicated an entire book to microwave cooking in 1988, now swears she wouldn't use hers for anything other than warming up a cup of cold coffee

Even Mary Berry, who dedicated an entire book to microwave cooking in 1988, now swears she wouldn’t use hers for anything other than warming up a cup of cold coffee

Heston Blumenthal uses his to cook fennel. Prue Leith has a microwave Christmas pudding recipe. And Nigella Lawson — whose infamous pronunciation of “mee-cro-wah-vay” was nominated for a Must-see Moment Bafta Award in 2021 — often resorts to warm milk, for example.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I also have something of a love affair with my microwave. So much so that several chapters of my 2020 cookbook, Six-Minute Showstoppers, are dedicated to microwave baking. For years I’ve talked about the convenience, simplicity, and sheer joy of making food from scratch in no time.

And now the experts have confirmed it. According to research by Icelandic supermarket and energy company Utilita, microwaves are the most economical cooking appliance, costing just 8p a day – the equivalent of £30 a year.

Cooking in an electric oven will cost you £316 a year, while a gas hob costs £120, so your microwave could save up to £286 on your bills. With price increases in October driving energy costs up to 51.8p per kilowatt-hour (units are currently capped at 28.3p), that reduction could double. These are not savings to sniff at.

And consumers are also realizing the benefits of a quick dinner. At Lakeland, sales of a new microwaveable pot with a lid are up 29 percent, while the microwave egg poacher is up 26 percent. Lekue’s microwave grill — a device for making toast and crispy bacon — is selling out so quickly that its makers are struggling to keep up.

Why is the microwave so cheap? The reason they are so efficient isn’t because they use less energy. In fact, a standard microwave costs about 3p more per hour than an electric stove, according to comparison site Uswitch’s smart meter analysis.

But, says food safety expert Natalie Seymour, they heat food much faster because they use electromagnetic radiation, which targets water molecules in the food and creates heat through friction.

“An oven heats the air, and then the air heats the food,” she says. “Microwaves heat food directly. Take a fried potato. The microwave reduces the cooking time from one hour in the oven to five minutes. As energy is absorbed by the potato, water molecules within it heat up and steam your dinner.”

Experts estimate that we use our microwaves for eight minutes a day, compared to 43 to 90 minutes of oven cooking. And ovens need to be “preheated” – it can take 10 minutes to heat up to 180°C. If you do this every day for a year, your bills will skyrocket before you’ve even cooked anything.

Star chef David Chang, who published a bestseller about the microwave last year, has three top tips. First, use different power levels for different foods (high for soups and seafood, medium for meat and grains).

Second, spread the food evenly around the container – the densest spots heat up first. And third, you know the limits of your machine.

“What a microwave can’t do is create a crispy exterior or cook foods that require even, controlled cooking, like fried potatoes. B. a cake or a tender pudding,” he says.

i am a convert But can you cook an entire meal in the microwave? I took on the ultimate challenge – a three-course microwave dinner party for four – to find out…

TASTE AT THE PUSH OF A BUTTON

Taste of Success: Sarah's Meal. Experts estimate that we use our microwaves for eight minutes a day, compared to 43 to 90 minutes of oven cooking

Taste of Success: Sarah’s Meal. Experts estimate that we use our microwaves for eight minutes a day, compared to 43 to 90 minutes of oven cooking

Scallops with garlic butter

(From Cooks.com)

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 tbsp dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 450 g fresh scallops

METHOD: Microwave butter on high for 45 seconds. Stir in the remaining ingredients, then add the scallops. Cover with cling film and cook on medium for 3 minutes.

Stir and cook over medium-high heat for an additional 2 minutes, until the scallops are opaque. Leave for 1 minute. Garnish with parsley and serve with bread.

VERDICT: Without the golden crust they would get in a pan, the scallops look and taste anemic. But the sauce is buttery, herbaceous and full of garlic clove. 2/5

Risotto and Parma ham

(No-Stir Risotto by David Chang)

  • 300 g risotto rice
  • 470 ml chicken broth
  • 235 ml water
  • ½ chopped onion
  • Squirt soy sauce
  • Handful of fresh garden peas
  • 200 g asparagus, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Handful of grated parmesan
  • Squirt white wine
  • 6 slices of Parma ham

METHOD: Combine the rice, broth, water, onion, and soy sauce and microwave on high for 25 to 35 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone. Remove every 8 minutes to stir.

Add another 235ml water, peas and chopped asparagus and heat on high until creamy, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the butter, parmesan, wine and spices.

Next, line a plate with 3 layers of kitchen paper. Arrange the Parma ham on top without overlapping and cover with 2 layers of kitchen paper. Microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes until crispy. Serve with parmesan.

VERDICT: As someone who spent hours preparing risotto over a hot stove, this is a game changer. It’s creamy, smooth and rich in flavor. I am happy to serve it to guests. 5/5

Gooey chocolate cake

(From six-minute showstoppers)

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 grams of powdered sugar
  • 50 g self-raising flour
  • 40 grams of cocoa powder
  • 4 small (40g) Mars bars

METHOD: Microwave butter on high for 45 seconds until melted. Beat eggs and sugar until fluffy. Stir in melted butter. Sift flour and cocoa powder. Add two-thirds of the chopped Mars bars.

Pour into a greased Pyrex mold with remaining chocolate and heat on high for 3 minutes. Score with a knife to marble the topping and cook for a further minute.

VERDICT: Sticky, soft and irresistible, but very sweet.4/5

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Andrew Kugle

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