People Making Waves
5 Tips for Improvising With Your Microwave
Anyone who has seen chef David Chang's home cooking videos on Instagram knows that he is a master of improvisation. He heads to his fridge and pantry — typically sans recipe — assesses the ingredients he has to work with, and creates a mind-blowing meal out of whatever he's got on hand (often using his Anyday dishes in the process). In fact, Dave is so good at cooking on the fly that he wrote an entire cookbook about it, along with Priya Krishna, called Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (And Love My Microwave).
While winging it might sound like an intimidating strategy that only a chef could pull off (especially while using the microwave), we're here to tell you that it's quite possible with the right mindset. If you're comfortable with improvising on the stovetop, on the grill, or in the oven, there's no reason you can't experiment in the microwave too.
We caught up with Dave to get his best tips on where to start improvising with your Anyday dishes. Here's his advice:
1. Stop following recipes.
“The best thing a home cook can do to learn to improvise is to stop relying on recipes,” Dave told us. "Think about it like following directions without GPS. It’s that kind of skill. Because of convenience, we’ve lost these innate skills that are encoded in our DNA. If you don’t have Autocorrect, your spelling will get better. If you don't follow a recipe, you'll be a better cook."
In Dave's opinion, recipes can serve as crutches much of the time:" Recipes are just marketing nonsense that say ‘nobody can cook unless you do it this exact way.’ Don't let a specific recipe be a roadblock to making something delicious."
2. Don't be so rigid about your ingredients.
Once you commit to improvising, the next step is determining what ingredients you have to work with. Say you don't have something that you think is critical to whatever dish you want to make. Here's what Dave has to say: "Are you going to panic? No. Look at what you do have, not what you don't and think of these limitations as a strength, not as a weakness. Even if you gave everyone the same exact ingredients, the final results would still taste different, right?"
For Dave, cooking with constraints is almost like solving a puzzle. "It’s a rewarding challenge to make something delicious out of nothing. Look at what’s around you. Mise en place. If you don’t have 1 ingredient, you might have 3, 4, or 5 others you need to recreate it."
3. Cook with a margin of error.
When improvising in the microwave, avoid being exacting in nature. "In a professional kitchen, that kind of exacting nature is good. It’s necessary in baking and pastry, but not in a lot of other kinds of cooking," says Dave. "Every microwave is different, every ingredient is different — to standardize everything is going to be the reason you're going to f*ck up." So, when approaching a dish, be flexible with ingredients amounts and cook times. "Expect that you're going to have to make adjustments," says Dave, and adjust accordingly.
4. Use critical thinking.
If you're not confident in determining your own cooking times, Dave has a few thoughts: "Say you're cooking frozen salmon in the microwave. (Fish is an ingredient that scares people, especially frozen.) I throw the frozen filets in the Anyday, put it straight in the microwave, and the whole thing is done in around 4 minutes. But say you take it out and find that it’s still raw. Put it back in. If it’s rubbery, cook it less next time. Use your senses: Is it done? Does it taste good? Does it need another element?"
"Think of it this way: You can always add more time, but you can’t take time away," Anyday founder, Steph Chen, adds. "People don't have a problem with estimating doneness on the stove. But the microwave is a different story."
(If you're not sure about cook times for single ingredients, check out our one-ingredient recipe guides as a starting point.)
5. Feel empowered to f*ck up.
As time goes on, the more you understand your microwave, the more you will understand how to cook with it. To get to this point, you have to navigate the unknown, make changes and ingredient swaps, and feel confident that you're equipped to do things your own way. "To develop your cooking instincts, you’re going to make mistakes. In your Anyday, you need to learn how to make them. We're basically encouraging people to f*ck up," says Dave. "Why do I need to do things the traditional way? Just because a certain dish has a more conventional cooking method doesn't mean that's the best way to do it."
Want to watch Dave's tips in action? Watch the video below to see him take chicken thighs in two completely different directions on the fly.
For all of your Anyday improvisational needs, we're here to help. E-mail us at email@example.com.