I'm living through a home renovation this summer that includes a complete kitchen remodel. Right now, the only appliances we can use are the refrigerator and microwave (both in the living room). I'm not complaining. My kitchen will look gorgeous when it's finished, but not having access to a stove has thrown off my culinary game in a lot of ways.
Don't get me wrong. Microwaves are great. They're fast and space-saving and there are plenty of healthy food options a microwave can handle. Still, they aren't perfect. Reheating leftovers or making dishes in the microwave can result in dry, rubbery or flavorless food. Here are a few ways to avoid microwave mishaps and keep your food tasting fresh.
Store leftovers well
If you're concerned about how well leftovers will reheat, be sure to store them well in the first place. Tightly wrap or contain foods stored in the refrigerator to keep moisture as locked in as possible.
Pick the right container
Any time you use a microwave, it's important to use microwave-safe containers. Most paper, glass and ceramic containers are safe to use in microwaves, since the actual microwaves pass through them. Some plastic containers are microwave-safe, but many will melt and shouldn't be used.
Metal pans and aluminum foil should not be used in a microwave. The microwaves that pass through the safe containers are reflected off of these materials. That can cause damage to your microwave and ruin your food. Check the bottom of the container and your microwave's instructions to decide which items are safe for your model.
Choose the right reheating method
If you're working with a food that needs to be crispy (think fries, egg rolls or fried foods), skip the microwave and use a toaster oven or the broiler function on your full-size oven. There's really no good way to reheat crispy foods in a microwave. You'll get a soggy mess every time.
For a less intense reheat in your microwave, try lowering your microwave's power settings. Many microwaves have power levels ranging from 1 to 10 or from 10 percent to 100 percent. Something around 60 percent is a good place to start for a gentler approach.
Arrange food for even cooking
When cooking or reheating food in the microwave, make sure it's arranged so that it heats evenly. A big mound of mac and cheese or mashed potatoes is likely to have a cool center. Arranging foods in one single layer helps the heat distribute more evenly.
If you're reheating different types of food, heat them according to their specific needs. A piece of bread like a bun or roll won't need as much time as something denser like meat or thick side item.
If your food is traditionally cooked in water or steamed like pasta, rice or vegetables, adding extra moisture can keep the dish tasting fresh. Cover the dish with a damp paper towel or hand towel.
You can also add a few tablespoons of water to the dish and cover it with a microwave-safe lid or plastic wrap, or place a second dish on top. The contained extra water will create steam in the microwave and quickly revamp your dish.
Keep an eye on it
Defrost, reheat and even the popcorn button are helpful microwave features that can quickly ruin food if not monitored. If you're using one of these special functions, it's important to keep an eye and ear on your food.
While it cooks, watch for excessive steam and listen for too much crackling. If you're microwaving for multiple minutes, stop in the middle and stir things up. This will help the food heat evenly.
Next time you get ready to throw that meat-and-three plate in the microwave, take a little extra time to try these tips. You might be surprised what a difference it can make.