Rarely do I use my microwave. I use it to take the chill off my coffee. I heat leftovers for lunch. Whenever a recipe calls for “butter, melted” onto the glass turntable the fat filled Pyrex measuring cup goes. I don’t cook with my microwave in any real culinary sense. I sometimes wonder why I have it, why I allow it to take up precious counter space when I know everything for which I use it can be done just as easily on the stove.
Of course there is also the fear that has been around as long as the microwave, that somehow it poses some sort of health risk. I don’t know if it does or not but if I error on the side of solid scientific research, it would tell me the microwave is harmless. Even so, I will lean on the side of caution and repeat the mantra I continually voice to my children, don’t put your face right up to the microwave door to watch as a cooking pizza pocket swells and shrinks, as if it is coming to life, and please, stand back an arms length.
I don’t believe the microwave has ever lived up to its original space age expectations. Nonetheless I read an article touting the healthy aspects of cooking vegetables in a microwave. Because it basically steams the vegetables, the vegetables retain a large portion of nutrients then if you used other cooking methods. It made sense, and I am buying in, or at least I want to and there are lots of reasons why.
1. The more nutrient dense I can keep a vegetable and serve it hot, the better. On a lot of nights my kids want simple food, they will eat broccoli and they eat it best when it is served steamed one notch past al dente. They like it tender but vibrant green. I’ll let you in on a secret, I do too.
2. On a week night the fewer dishes the better. If I can cook a side dish and take it to the table in the same dish it is a win win.
3. Along with sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and umami the notion that something feels, deep down to the cellular level, nutritious at the moment you are chewing is every bit as important to me as the five sensations of tastes. If you have ever experienced this feeling it isn’t easy to forget.
4. If I can put together a dish and cook it with little fuss you know it is going to make regular weeknight appearances.
5. I always cook extra.
For the purposes of this post, we are only using fresh broccoli, not frozen. If your grocer’s produce section is anything like my grocers you have crowns or heads, they have a little bit of stalk but are overwhelmingly large bouquets of attached florets sans stem. They are often more expensive, although not as expensive as trimmed and separated florets. There are also bunches, they have the long stalk attached. I have this notion most people prefer to eat broccoli without stalks. I don’t know why. I prefer the stalk over the florets. So for me, I always buy the bunches and I separate the stems from the florets and almost always utilize each in separate but equally satisfying dishes.
Whichever I buy, crowns or bunches, I always trim away a sliver of the hard and blackened end of the stalk. I usually cut a head into 4 pieces. To do this without a lot of mess, or tiny bits of floret ending up everywhere, using a knife start at the stalk end and make a cut down the center of the stalk that stops just short of the florets. Now, twist the handle of the knife in the palm of your hand using the blade as a wedge, or lever, that gently pries apart the florets. There should be very little floret dust, as I like to call it, on the cutting board. Cut each in half again using the same process to make four pieces. Or, if you like you can cut each head into small florets. It is totally up to you.
Finally, when you buy broccoli, wrap your hand around the florets and squeeze. Make sure they are firm and dark green. If the buds have begun to sprout tiny yellow flowers move on and buy a different vegetable. If you get your broccoli home, put it into the crisper and don’t get to it for a day or two, take note, if it is a little limp your cooking time will be less.
Perfect Microwave Broccoli (serves 4)
16 ounces broccoli florets
1/2 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1. Put down a layer of broccoli into a microwave safe ceramic bowl. Using a two finger pinch of salt season the first layer. Repeat the process until all the broccoli is in the bowl.
2. Using the microwave, heat the water in a Pyrex measuring cup until boiling. Pour the water down the inside edge of the bowl. Heating the water first gets it steaming right away which helps the broccoli to cook more evenly.
3. Top the bowl with a tight layer of plastic wrap or, if you are against plastic wrap which I know many people are, top the bowl with a ceramic dinner plate that fits snugly. Carefully place the bowl into the microwave. Cook the broccoli on power 8 for 4:30 minutes.
4. Let the broccoli rest, covered, in the microwave for another 2 minutes. Remove the broccoli from the microwave. Use a knife to poke two or three holes near the edge of the bowl. Over the sink, drain the water from the broccoli.
5. Remove whatever lid you decided to use being careful not to get a steam burn. The broccoli is very tender so gently toss, or spoon, the melted butter over the broccoli and serve.