Kitchen Improv: Microwave Magic

Categories: How To

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Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Betcha can't eat just one.
If there's one thing Shiftwork Bites taught me, it's how to improvise. From poaching eggs in a coffee maker to the space management required to cook in 25 square feet, I learned how to make do with what limited resources I had, both in terms of space and equipment. I try to incorporate those lessons into my cooking on a regular basis, finding ways to do things that might not be immediately obvious. In this (highly sporadic) series, I'll explore some of these make-do techniques and how you can employ them at home.

It's been awhile since I've done one of these. I've not given up on finding alternative uses for my kitchen equipment, or hacking my way through technique; it's just that I've been returning to simpler preparations.Turns out my kids prefer pot roast to smoked potatoes, most of the time. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and pretty much the point of good cooking is finding ways to make what's interesting to you enjoyable to those whom you are feeding.That's where microwaved pepperoni comes in.

Microwaved Salumi Crisps:
A few years ago, I started playing around with frico. I was turning every cheese I could find into crispy wafers and eating them like cheesy candy. Then I wondered If I could make meat frico. I froze a hunk of soppressata, grated it on a microplane and fried it in a pan. It worked okay. One night while "cooking" at work, I settled on an easier, better way to get crispy wafers of cured meat: the microwave.

The low-moisture environment and high-heat cooking method encourages the fat to render from thin slices of cured meat, dehydrating them and frying them at the same time. The result is a crispy, deeply flavored "chip" of meat. I've found that whole-muscle salumi like coppa works very well in this preparation, giving the resulting crisp a nice contrast of textures between the heftier crunch of the meat and the airier crisp of the dehydrated fat. Basically any cured meat product will work, though.

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Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Eggs Benedict-ish: Crispy pepperoni, leftover brown-butter creamed winter greens, Valentina hollandaise.
Most recently, I tried it with pepperoni, which resulted in supremely crunchy wafers with just a bit of curl. They came out quite spicy, with a hint of smoke. Great bar snacks (or homework snacks; the kids kept stealing them from the plate as they came out of the microwave).

The method is simple. Line a microwave-safe plate with paper towels, lay the meat on top and microwave on high for bursts of 30 seconds. You'll see the fat render, then begin to sizzle on top of the meat. If you see wisps of smoke, stop cooking for a few minutes. You may want to flip them halfway through (cooking time is between 40 and 60 seconds, depending on what you're working with in terms of both meat and microwave), especially with something like pepperoni, which tends to cup as it crisps, pooling the fat. Drain on paper towels, adding seasoning if you like. These also substitute nicely anywhere you'd add bacon or, as in this case, Canadian bacon.

This story continues on the next page.


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