Category Archives: Gadgets

Microwaves: The Coolest Appliance You Have

Microwaves are super popular. Nearly every home I’ve been in recently has one. People usually associate microwaves with convenience as they are far and away the fastest way to heat most food. Unfortunately, they’ve long been shunned by the culinary world. High end classically trained Chefs have turned their nose up at the notion of microwaved food on television. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a Gordon Ramsay shame someone for even having a microwave. I’m not sure if this is done because old school Chefs do not understand how a microwave works or for another reason but its caused the general public to think microwaves are incapable of producing delicious food.

How it works

Microwave

Photo by Tech-Kid

Microwaves essentially work by producing electromagnetic waves that interact with polar molecules (mostly water) in food. By causing these polar water molecules to oscillate at a ridiculously high frequency, the electromagnetic waves increase the temperature of the food by using the food itself.

Microwave

Photo by Irvin Mai

Why its better

The classic technique for boiling or steaming vegetables or any other food item is to wait until the water is as hot as possible before dropping the food in. This is because the longer the vegetable stays in the water, the more flavour and nutrients dissolves into the water. In fact, slowly simmering bones or vegetables is exactly how you extract the most amount of flavour when making a stock. Water can only exist in a liquid state up to 100 degrees celsius so there  is a limit to how fast an ingredient can be cooked. Therefore, there inevitably is going to be some flavour and nutrients lost.

Microwave

Photo by Irvin Mai

Microwaves aren’t perfect but they cook food faster than any other method and the water that is cooking the food is inside the food itself so the flavour and nutrients is not extracted. This results in the most vibrant and nutritious result unmatched by alternative classic cooking techniques.

Defrosting

Defrost Microwave

Photo by Irvin Mai

Have you ever tried cooking something in the microwave from frozen? If you have you probably remember because the result is quite startling. If you haven’t, what happens is parts of the food ends up being fully cooked while other parts of the food remains completely frozen.

This is because of the fact that frozen water has a different atomic structure than liquid water. Frozen water does not interact with the microwaves. The liquid water ends up cooking food near these molecules very quickly while the rest of the food is untouched. The defrost setting is simply the magnetron in the microwave oscillating between being on and off. This allows for small increments in cooking around the liquid water molecules which in turn provide enough heat to melt the frozen parts of the food. This allows for more even heating than the standard microwave setting.

Hopefully this has shed some light on the microwave, an appliance that has been grossly misunderstood for years.

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The Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking

Sous Vide is a cooking technique in which an ingredient is heated at a consistent temperature in a water bath. Since the heat can be precisely controlled, the end results can accurately and consistently be predicted.

Sous-Vide

Photo by Hana Dibe

Why Sous Vide?

1. Timing

Anova Sous-Vide

Photo by Hana Dibe

Traditional cooking techniques involve using heat that is much hotter than the ideal internal temperature of the food. Think about how hot an oven, barbecue, or a frying pan gets compared to the temperature of food that is edible.

This means that timing is crucial. With traditional cooking methods, the surface of the food is always hotter than the internal temperature. When food is taken off the grill or the pan to rest and wait for the cooling of the surface, the center becomes warmer.

This is why when a roast is the perfect temperature when it’s taken out of the oven, it’s well overcooked by the time it’s sliced into.

With a water bath that is set to the exact internal temperature of the food, the surface and the internal temperature are always at equilibrium. The water bath is also at that temperature so there is no danger of ever overcooking.

Sous-Vide Ready Vacuum Packs

Photo by Hana Dibe

This means that one can have horrible timing without worrying about the result of whatever is being cooked.

What is even more convenient is that food can be cooked in advance and stored in the fridge until mealtime. This can take a lot of pressure off during busier times, like finals season.

2. Simplicity

Sous-Vide Torch Finishing

Photo by Hana Dibe

Cooking sous vide often requires a finishing step. It’s usually desirable to alter the surface texture on something cooked sous vide, like a steak.

A crunchy and deeply coloured exterior is one of the hallmarks of a great beefsteak, so an additional finishing step is required to achieve this after the sous vide cooking process. This can be done in various ways whether it be in the pan, under a broiler, or even a torch if you are feeling fancy.

3. Precision

Sous-Vide Steak

Photo by ChefSteps.

Everyone has a preference for how they like their steak. The difficulty lies in describing your preference to whoever is cooking the steak.

Everyone’s interpretation of popular steak adjectives like “rare”, “medium”, or “well done” is different. One person’s medium might be another person’s medium rare.

Although these adjectives have a degree of ambiguity, it’s pointless to be more specific when using traditional cooking techniques.

This is because even within one cooked steak, one can find areas that are cooked to a different degree of doneness. The center is invariably less done than the areas near the surface.

Not Sous-Vide Steak

Photo by Jessica Spengler

Quantitative measures allow us to be specific about the level of doneness we prefer. The ability to precisely control these measures allow even someone with little to no culinary skills to be more consistent than the most masterful of professional chefs using traditional cooking techniques.

Photo by ChefSteps

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