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Microwave . . .

Finishing Touches to Casseroles

September 22, 1988|JEAN ANDERSON and ELAINE HANNA | Anderson and Hanna are nutritionists and cookbook authors specializing in microwave cookery. and

Remember when food processors were the hot new kitchen "toy" and we tried to make them do everything? We soon learned that they did a lousy job of mashing potatoes and that blenders were better at buzzing up frothy drinks.

Now comes the microwave but, miraculous as it is, it can't do everything to perfection. Nor should we expect it to. Take browning meat, for example. Nothing beats a big heavy skillet set over quick heat for that. Yes, we know that today, many microwave ovens come equipped with browning elements. We also know that there are browning skillets designed especially to attract microwaves, which when preheated in a microwave oven, will actually brown meats--to some extent.

Braising to Perfection

But they're neither as efficient nor as effective as the old iron skillet when meats must be richly browned, as often they must be for soups and casseroles. The best policy, we think, is this: Whenever the success of a stew, casserole or braised dish relies upon intense amber color and mellow caramel-like flavor, brown the meat, poultry or vegetables just as you've always done on top of the stove.

Then transfer all to the microwave oven to finish cooking. Most meats and poultry will braise to perfection in the microwave because it's a moist method of cooking that quickly turns sinew to succulence. And it does the job nearly twice as fast as stovetop or oven simmering.

The lesson here is that you shouldn't expect the microwave oven to replace the conventional oven or cooktop. Each is a specialist and the three should be used in conjunction with--not in place of--one another.

CHICKEN VALENCIA

1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) chicken, disjointed, breasts halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 medium green or sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup rice

1 (1-pound 12-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 pound chorizo or kielbasa sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 1/2 cups frozen peas

2 tablespoons water

1 to 2 tablespoons minced cilantro or Italian parsley

Brown chicken pieces on all sides in oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Transfer to platter and set aside.

Saute onion, green pepper and garlic in drippings 2 minutes. Transfer to ungreased 5-quart microwave casserole at least 10 inches across.

Stir in rice, tomatoes, paprika, orange peel, salt, fennel, ground coriander and pepper. Arrange chicken on top, largest pieces toward outside, wings in center. Top with chorizo.

Cover and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 23 to 26 minutes, turning chicken over, stirring rice and rotating casserole 180 degrees at half time, until chicken is done and rice is firm-tender. Let stand, covered, few minutes.

Meanwhile, microwave peas with water in covered 1-pint casserole on HIGH 4 to 5 minutes, stirring at half time, until just tender. Drain peas well, mix gently into chicken and rice, sprinkle with cilantro and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.

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