Even Mary Berry, who in 1988 devoted an entire book to microwave cooking, now swears she would only use hers to heat up a cold cup of coffee.

Yes, you CAN cook a three course dinner in the microwave

That familiar ping can only mean one thing. Rather than being slowly cooked in the oven or tossed around on the hob, your dinner went from cold (or worse, frozen) to hot in minutes… in the microwave.

In culinary circles, that’s a dirty word. The snobbery around microwaves is such that Gordon Ramsay says they are the preserve of “lazy cooks”, while Raymond Blanc compares their use to “an act of hate”.

Even Mary Berry, who in 1988 devoted an entire book to microwave cooking, now swears she would only use hers to heat up a cold cup of coffee.

And yet, there are those among us who, whisper it, never tire of the humble microwave. Ninety-three percent of us have one in our kitchens, a figure that has doubled since the 1990s.

Even Mary Berry, who in 1988 devoted an entire book to microwave cooking, now swears she would only use hers to heat up a cold cup of coffee.

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

I’m not ashamed to admit that I, too, have kind of a love affair with my microwave. So much so that several chapters of my 2020 cookbook, Six-Minute Showstoppers, are dedicated to microwave cooking. For years I’ve talked about the convenience, simplicity, and joy of cooking food from scratch in an instant.

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 cut your bills by up to £286. With price hikes in October expected to push energy costs up to 51.8 pence per kilowatt hour (units are currently capped at 28.3 pence), that reduction could double. These are not savings to be sniffed at.

And consumers also understand the benefits of quick dinners. In Lakeland, sales of a new microwave-safe lidded saucepan soared 29%, while its microwave egg poacher saw a 26% increase. Lekue’s microwave grill – an appliance for making toast and crisping bacon – is selling so fast its makers can barely keep up.

So why is the microwave so cheap? The reason they are so efficient has nothing to do with using less energy. In fact, according to analysis of smart meters by comparison site Uswitch, a standard microwave oven costs around 3p more per hour of use than an electric oven.

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

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

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

Star chef David Chang, who last year published a bestselling book praising the microwave, has three tips. First, use different power settings for different foods (“high” for soups and seafood, “medium” for meat and grains).

Second, distribute the food evenly around the container – denser areas heat up first. And third, know the limits of your machine.

“What a microwave can’t do is make a crispy exterior or cook foods that require even, controlled cooking, like a delicate cake or 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 for four – to find out…

Enjoy at the push of a button

The taste of success: Sarah's meal.  Experts estimate that we use our microwaves eight minutes a day, compared to between 43 and 90 minutes of cooking in the oven

The taste of success: Sarah’s meal. Experts estimate that we use our microwaves eight minutes a day, compared to between 43 and 90 minutes of cooking in the oven

Garlic Butter Scallops

(At cooks.com)

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 450g fresh scallops

METHOD: Heat the butter in the microwave on high power for 45 seconds. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, then add the scallops. Cover with cling film and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.

Stir and cook over medium heat for another 2 minutes until the scallops are opaque. Let stand 1 minute. Garnish with parsley and serve with bread.

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

Risotto and Parma ham

(Risotto without stirring by David Chang)

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

METHOD: Combine rice, stock, water, onion and soy sauce and microwave on high power 25-35 minutes until liquid is almost gone, removing every 8 minutes to stir.

Add another 235ml water, the peas and chopped asparagus and microwave on high power for 5-8 minutes until creamy. Stir in butter, Parmesan, wine and seasoning.

Then line a plate with 3 layers of paper towel. Place the Parma ham on top without overlapping it and cover with 2 layers of absorbent paper. Microwave on high power for 4-6 minutes until crispy. Serve with parmesan.

VERDICT: As someone who worked for hours on a hot stove to make risotto, this is a game changer. It’s creamy, smooth and rich in flavor. I would gladly serve it to guests. 5/5

Chocolate cake

(Six Minute Showstoppers)

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 50g self-rising flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 4 small Mars bars (40g)

METHOD: Heat butter in microwave on high power for 45 seconds until melted. Whisk eggs and sugar until pale and frothy. Whisk the melted butter. Sift the flour and cocoa powder. Add two-thirds of the chopped Mars bars.

Pour into a greased Pyrex pan with the rest of the chocolate on top and heat over high heat for 3 minutes. Mark a knife on top to marble the filling and heat for another minute.

VERDICT: Gooey, melting and irresistible but very sweet.4/5

Yes, you CAN cook a three course dinner in the microwave

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