Zapping the myths of microwave cooking

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DONOVAN Jon Fandre is making microwaves in the kitchen and drowning myths at the same time. He has been cooking with microwave ovens for ''more years than I care to remember'' and has, between meals and dishes, written books and given lectures. He even has a TV program explaining what they are and what they're not.

The two most common myths, Mr. Fandre believes, are that a microwave oven cooks food from the inside out and that the oven is dangerous.

It is, in fact, the only oven he is comfortable letting his children use. ''There's no heat, so they can't burn themselves,'' he says, ''and when they open the door to take something out of the oven, it goes off automatically.''

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As much as he champions this kitchen tool, he is quick to admit it's no panacea for the poor cook.

''If you're a good cook, you'll be a faster good cook with a microwave. But if you're a lousy cook, it will only make you a faster lousy cook,'' he says. ''Keep in mind that it is a machine and you are the cook. You've still got to poke stir, taste, and feel. You have to get involved with it. It is not a miracle machine.''

If you're in the market for one, he advises first checking your dealer's reputation and his knowledge of what a microwave oven does.

''Some dealers follow the manufacturer's story line - that it will do everything,'' Mr. Fandre says. ''Well, it won't. You can't fry successfully in it. Baking, too, is really best done in a hot oven. But for big pieces of meat, fish, casseroles, and fresh vegetables, it's great. Vegetables especially. You steam them in their own moisture; that's why they're so good. Even the biggest skeptic will admit that.''

He enjoys discovering the unexpected things that aren't usually in print, like putting those difficult-to-open raw oysters in the microwave - ''just for a few seconds until their lips open,'' he advises. Honey that has separated will come together after a quick zap. And dried cereals that have gotten a bit tired will regain their freshness with a little blast.

Given all they can do, Mr. Fandre admits that microwave ovens still tend to be underutilized.

''People are comfortable with their conventional ovens and sometimes don't want to risk using their microwave. But $300 is too much money to pay for a machine just to reheat a cup of coffee,'' he says.

''You've got to experiment. You've got to remember when you buy a chicken, for instance, to use the microwave. It does chicken superbly. It may not brown like we're used to, but you can fake it. There are browning agents you can put on the outside, or, once the chicken is cooked, put it into a hot oven until it crisps up and browns nicely.

''I've made my share of Frisbees out of layer cakes, but you've got to keep trying,'' he continues. ''It also helps to have a big dog when you start out with a microwave - to eat up your mistakes!''

What about expensive extra gadgets? They aren't really necessary, Mr. Fandre believes.

''Some manufacturers have brought the price down. And then doggone if they don't start adding more junk to build the price up. Of course, the higher the price, the bigger the profit. That bothers me a great deal,'' he admits.

He advises prospective buyers to be sure the extra, costly gadgets will be used.

One gadget he does like is the computer. ''You don't need it, but I like it. And my kids won't touch anything that doesn't have a computer,'' he says.

What about outside the kitchen? Are they useful there, too?

''Well I have three microwave ovens at home,'' he confesses. ''One in the kitchen, one in the garage, one in the bedroom.''

The garage?

''Yes, wonderful to warm up cold putty or caulking. Or even drying flowers for my wife's arrangements. And sterilizing potting soil. Things like that.''

The bedroom! ?

''Perfect to heat up a warm drink or a hot water bottle on a cold night!''

Whenever Mr. Fandre wants to impress anyone with microwave cooking, this is the chicken dish he prepares. Roast Ginger Chicken 3 pound fryer chicken 1/2 cup soy sauce 1 teaspoon sugar 2 to 4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger 1 tablespoon minced garlic

Loosen entire skin including drumsticks by running a chopstick, spatula handle, or your fingers between skin and meat of chicken.

Mix remaining ingredients; pour under skin and massage well into all areas.

Enclose chicken in plastic wrap and place, breast side down, on microwave roasting rack. Cook 10 minutes on high.

Turn bird over, remove wrap, and baste. Cook another 10 minutes longer on high. The temperature of the bird should read 170 degrees.

This chicken goes well with fresh broccoli. Simply wash and trim heavy part of stalk. Cover broccoli in plastic wrap and cook 7 minutes on high. Pierce with sharp object to test for doneness.

Here is Mr. Fandre's recipe for a quick Hollandaise sauce that goes nicely with broccoli. Hollandaise Sauce 3 egg yolks 1/4 pound butter 1 tablespoon lemon juice Salt White pepper Dry mustard to taste Soften butter in microwave oven on high for 10 to 15 seconds.

Mix egg yolks and lemon juice together and add butter.

Cook in microwave on high about 1 minute. Stir well every 15 seconds. Remove when sauce is thick and smooth. Add seasonings to taste.

Note: If sauce curdles, recover it by adding 1 ounce of boiling milk slowly to sauce while beating vigorously.

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