When it comes to meats, the microwave both shines and bombs. And causes considerable contention. As a rule, it performs best when the cut of meat is a tough one that requires slow cooking or simmering.
There's good reason for this. Tender cuts of meat, cut from the rib and the loin, can never be made any more tender than they are in the raw state. And even when cooked by tried-and-true methods--in a skillet on top of the stove or in the oven--they must be coddled lest they toughen.
The microwave, because it cooks so fast, often complicates meat cookery. For example, there has been plenty of controversy as to whether meats roast properly in a microwave. Indeed, the two of us are of two minds. Purists shriek that the worst crime perpetrated against a pricey Prime rib or Choice leg of lamb is subjecting it to microwaves.
Converts, on the other hand, insist that microwaved roasts cook twice as fast as conventional ones, yet if begun on HIGH (100% power) and finished on MEDIUM (50% power), they remain succulent with negligible shrinkage or nutrient loss. They further insist that despite complaints to the contrary, roasts do brown in a microwave (but not, perhaps, as much as you'd like, so you may need to heighten the color with liquid gravy browner or another browning agent), and, finally, that they cook uniformly throughout if meticulously timed and tended (truer for roasts in the medium-rare to well-done category than for those cooked really rare).
Where the two of us do agree--100%--is that the microwave is simply magnificent when it comes to pot roasts. These fall into the category of less-tender cuts. But the moist heat of the microwave converts all of the tough meat--the gristle and sinew--to gelatin, making the pot roasts tender, especially when you let them laze along on MEDIUM power after a brief initial blast on HIGH.
Here's a handy tip: To save on dish washing, use a glass ceramic casserole that can go from stove top to microwave. Our pot roast does start out on the top of the stove because a quick initial browning both improves its color and flavor.
1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) boned and rolled rump, chuck or bottom round roast
2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups beef broth or water, about
1/4 cup flour blended
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon liquid gravy browner, optional
Brown roast in oil in 3- or 4-quart glass ceramic casserole, at least 10 inches across, 3 to 4 minutes on all sides over moderately high heat.
Add onion, pepper and 1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 1/2 cups broth. Cover with lid and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 13 to 15 minutes, rotating casserole 180 degrees at half time, until broth boils.
Rotate casserole 180 degrees again, reduce power to MEDIUM (50% power) and microwave 50 to 60 minutes, turning meat over and rotating casserole 180 degrees at half time, until meat is fork-tender. Lift roast to heated platter, cover with foil and let stand while preparing gravy.
Skim all but 1 to 2 tablespoons fat from casserole liquid. Measure liquid and add enough broth to total 2 1/2 cups. Blend flour and cold water. Return broth to casserole and whisk in flour paste.
Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 4 to 5 minutes, whisking vigorously after 2 minutes, until gravy boils and thickens. Whisk again, taste and add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, if needed. Deepen color by blending in gravy browner.
Slice pot roast, not too thin, and serve with gravy. Makes 6 servings.
Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.