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Stand and Deliver


When it comes to microwave cooking, people often misjudge the "doneness" of the food because they haven't factored in the standing time, or the time that the food continues to cook without any microwave energy.

Here's a tip: Slightly undercook a food to bring it to the right doneness at the table.

Where people probably notice standing time the most is when cooking a potato. To test a potato for doneness in a conventional oven, you should be able to pierce it with a fork. But judging doneness from a microwave oven is different.

Instead, here is the test: Grab the hot potato from the microwave with a tea towel and squeeze it as you would the handlebars of a bike. If the potato gives slightly on the outside but feels firm on the inside, the potato is ready to be removed for about a five-minute standing time. In that five minutes, the potato will continue to cook to the perfect doneness. If you cook it too long in the microwave, it will become shriveled on the outside and mealy on the inside after the standing time.

A false idea about standing time is that it is the time necessary to let the microwave out of the food. This is not true. There are no microwaves in the food.

If you're wondering where the best place for standing time is, it can either be in the oven--if the oven is turned off, of course--or outside of the oven on the kitchen counter. The food or casserole dish must rest on a flat, solid surface to help insulate the heat within the food to complete the cooking job.

In some instances, covering the food during standing time is important. In the cases of larger cuts of meat or turkey, the food is "tented" or loosely covered with foil to reflect the heat back into the food.

Since standing time varies from food to food, it might be important to note the three factors that determine it. The more of the properties a food has, the longer the standing time will be (particularly in relation to its cooking time): large weight in relation to size; large foods, not cut into pieces; a long cooking time.

Here are some examples of cooking times and standing times.

Turkey (10- to 16-pounds)--1 1/4 to 2 hours, 15 to 20 minutes.

Roast beef (3 pounds)--18 to 21 minutes, 5 to 10 minutes.

Acorn squash--6 to 8 minutes, 5 minutes.

Two potatoes--8 minutes, 5 minutes.

Fish (1 pound)--2 1/2 to 5 minutes, 2 minutes.

Carrots (1 pound)--thinly sliced--4 to 5 minutes, 1 minute.

If the standing time is very short--in other words, no longer than it would take to get from the oven to the table--the mention of standing time at the end of a recipe will be eliminated.

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