Chef Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson is busy battling health myths about microwave cooking, with an appearance on BBC1's Rip Off Britain which you can watch by clicking here. Charles Raspin explores the heated debate on microwave cooking
BBC Good Food celebrated its 25th anniversary last year with the largest ever UK food survey, covering over 10,000 readers and a huge range of questions – including “what cooking item could you not live without?”
The microwave took first place, with 56%. Second place? Knives.
For Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, president of the Microwave Association and Berkshire resident, the result must be heartening – but she’s troubled by how few people really recognise the power of the little white box at the end of their kitchen counter. Government statistics claim that 83% of households have a microwave – but very few use it to actually cook.
“It’s about comfort zones,” Jennipher says. “We’re only comfortable with the same cooking methods that we’ve been using since the caveman invented fire, hundreds of thousands of years ago. We all know how to put things over a flame, how to do sausages in a pan or roasts in the oven – but microwaves were only invented 70 years ago, and it takes time for people to adapt.”
Derived from the radar technology invented by Britain in the 1930s, the first microwave oven was patented in 1945 by the American Percy Spencer, as the “Radarange.” His reward? A flat flee of $2 from his employer Raytheon.
“There are still so many myths out there,” Jennipher muses. “They’ve come out of nowhere, and most of them are total nonsense. You have people telling you not to stand by a microwave oven if you have a pacemaker, because of the radio waves – except it’s the same radio waves as you’ll get from standing near a TV, or a phone, or an actual radio!”
“The truth is, microwave cooking is more healthy than other cooking methods. Especially veggies – if you boil vegetables in a saucepan, they lose up to 85% of their nutrients, and a huge amount of flavour. Steaming’s better, but they still lose up to two thirds of their nutrients. Microwaving, on the other hand, means you’re cooking the vegetables in their own steam – so they lose only about 15% of their nutrients.”
I’m sceptical, so I do a bit of my own research into this. A vegetarian friend claims that microwaves will destroy all the “goodness” in my carrots, but after hours of reading all I can find are a few bogus studies and articles with titles like “THROW OUT YOUR MICROWAVE NOW!”, one of which warns darkly that using a microwave produces “changes in your food’s chemical structure” – in laymen’s terms, cooks it.
The World Health Organisation even has a whole page on microwaves, which explains, in the faintly weary tone of a parent who’s been asked the same question many, many times, that no, they don’t make food radioactive, and yes, you should avoid putting non-microwavable plastics in your microwave.
Setting aside the pseudo-science and click-bait, it seems the only danger of microwaving is the possibility of unevenly heating food – mainly a worry for baby bottles (give them a shake and let them stand), or when cooking (or reheating) large dishes. In these cases, you just need to make sure the heat can reach every part of the food evenly – use a lower power setting on more time, let the food stand for a few minutes after heating, or add a little water beforehand to make steam.
It’s just this sort of confusion that’s seen Jennipher take a spot on BBC's programme, Rip-Off Britain this year. The BBC1 show works to inform consumers about the misinformation that’s harming them – ranging from mis-marketed homeopathy to 'long-life' batteries – and this February will be casting its eye on the fear-mongering aimed at microwaves.
Of course, it’s not just fear of the unknown that makes me distrust my microwave. There’s an element of snobbishness – how can something so easy to use be any good?
“I’ve actually had chefs tell me I’m making cooking too easy”, laughs Jennipher. “There’s no theatre or drama to it, and that upsets them. One TV producer told me it just wasn’t sexy – but I’m a full-time working Mum. I’m not running a show, I just want to get an appetising, healthy dinner on the table for my family, without any fuss, so we can all go off and do other things.”
“I haven’t used a saucepan in thirty years”, she claims. “Why would I want to cook rice in a pan and have to clean up a horrible, sticky mess afterwards?”
Indeed, they never seem to show Nigella or Jamie doing the washing-up.
Check out the microwave association's page here or message Jennipher directly on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
To watch the episode of Rip Off Britain featuring Jennipher, click here
Smoked salmon and spinach roulade
Serves 3 – 4
Preparation time 30 minutes
1 – 140ml carton soured cream or crème fraise
125g smoked salmon, roughly chopped
1 tblspn fresh or 1 teaspn dried chopped dill
200g fresh or frozen spinach, well washed and trimmed
1 teaspn butter
freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, separated
Prepare the cooking dish first: grease and line a 23 x 23cm shallow baking tray with waxed paper.
If you don’t have a suitable cooking container, make one, by turning up and folding the 4 sides of a piece of waxed paper, holding the corners firm with a piece of Sellotape, so that the finished dish size is approximately 23 x 23cm or large enough to sit comfortable on the turntable of your oven. Sit the tray on an oven –proof plate and brush with oil.
Mix the sour cream, smoked salmon and dill together, Chill until required.
Place the well washed spinach in an oven-proof container, with only the water that adheres to its leaves. Cover tightly with a well fitting lid or cling wrap and cook on HIGH power for 3 minutes, giving the dish a good shake half way through the cooking time. Stand for a minute or so, then squeeze and drain off all excess liquid.
Miss out this cooking procedure if using frozen, thawed spinach, but heat it though on HIGH power for 1 minute and do ensure that all the excess moisture has been squeezed out of it - it is essential to do this to achieve a perfect soufflé type mixture before cooking.
Chop the spinach finely with the butter, black pepper and nutmeg. Place in a bowl and stir in the egg yolks.
Whisk the egg whites until dry and form soft peaks. Gently fold into the spinach mixture. Carefully spoon into prepared cooking tray. Cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes, until the top is just set and the centre is still a little sticky to touch, but still cooked through underneath. The sides should be spongy.
Turn the roulade onto a piece of waxed or wet greaseproof paper. (Work quickly at this stage, so the roulade is rolled while it is still warm, to prevent it from cracking). Spread the filling onto the roulade and roll up, like a Swiss roll, using the greaseproof paper as a lift and guide.
Wet the paper slightly and securely wrap around the roulade. Place in the refrigerator to chill until required.
Note: Don’t spread the filling too thickly over the roulade, as some of it will spill out when rolled. Better to serve the left over filling separately in a bowl on the side.
To serve: cut roulade into 1 – 2 cm slices, set on a serving plate garnished with sprigs of fresh dill.