The Language of Microwave Cooking

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Written By MartinCorbett

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Reading through a microwave recipe book, you may have come across some terms with which you are not familiar. Many are well-known cookery techniques or methods but, due to the speed of microwave cooking, are worth reviewing. Others are quite new.


As a rough guide most foods will require approximately a quarter to one third of the conventional cooking time. If unsure, always underestimate the time needed, check the result and continue cooking if needed. The more food, the longer the cooking time. When doubling a recipe, increase the cooking time by half and check the result.


Cover foods for the same reasons as in conventional cooking – to retain moisture, speed up cooking and to help tenderize foods.

YES: vegetables, casseroles, fish. Use a vented lid for foods with a high liquid content, such as soups, to allow steam to escape and prevent the liquid boiling over. Covering food with a sauce has the same effect as using a lid. When cooking meat or poultry, roasting bags may be used to prevent splattering on the oven walls.

NO: for a fry finish on cakes and crumbles; for quick-cooking items such as scrambled eggs; and for foods which need frequent stirring like sauces and custard.

Standing Time:

Because microwaves only penetrate the food to a depth of about 5 cm/2 in, the centre of larger items cooks by the conduction of heat, just as it does in conventional cooking. This process continues when the microwave has switched off, so the food should be allowed to stand before serving. It can be left in the microwave cooker or it may be removed while the cooker is used to cook other dishes. Standing time is particularly important when cooking large pieces of meat and when baking cakes.


Food nearest the sides of the dish cooks faster than at the centre. Stirring will speed up its cooking time and ensure even cooking. Particularly sensitive foods, such as scrambled eggs and sauces, need frequent stirring during cooking.


When thawing, heating or cooking large items, such as a whole chicken, star off by placing the food upside down. Turn it over half way through the required time.

Arranging and rearranging:

The food at the outer edges of the turntable or dish generally receives more microwave energy than that at the centre, so place thicker or larger portions of food to the outher edge. Rearranging, like stirring, moves the food and encourages even cooking – essential with food which cannot be stirred. Move the food from the centre of the dish to the outside.


If microwaves are prevented from entering it, the food will not cook. Very small pieces of foil may be used to cover thinner parts such as chicken legs, fish tails or meat bones for the first half of the cooking time. Remove it to complete cooking. Use only small pieces of foil and make sure it will not touch the cooker walls.

Piercing, Pricking and Scoring:

Any food which is completely covered with a skin or membrane must have it broken otherwise pressure will build up inside and it will burst open. This includes foods such as jacket potatoes and other whole vegetables, chicken livers and egg yolks. Pierce them with a fork or skewer. Never try to cook eggs in the shell.


Once you are familiar with microwave cooking you will appreciate that the lack of browning is fat out-weighed by the many advantages. Large items with long cooking times will brown slightly, while small items may need some help. In the recipes we have suggested, which can be found in different article, where appropriate ways to add colour to foods, such as brushing the skin of a chicken with soy sauce or with melted butter and paprika.


When reheating foods in flat-topped containers, plated meals with rigid plate vovers and plates separated by plate rings. For even heating arrange the plates or containers so that thicker foods such as jacket potatoes are evenly distributed in the stack, e.g. with the potato on the lower plate (or container) on the opposite side to the potato on the upper plate (or container). Stack no more than two plates or containers for best results.