AT home, microwaves tend only to be used for simple tasks, in the main reheating or defrosting food
But in the commercial world the equipment is now being used to perform an increasingly broad range of cooking operations, thanks to technological developments.
What’s more, microwaves are also said to be more energy efficient than conventional ovens, perform some cooking tasks more quickly and offer greater value for money than many other types of catering equipment.
Mick Shaddock, chair of the Catering Equipment Suppliers’ Association, outlined the versatility microwaves offer caterers in response to questions from SLTN last week.
“There’s more to microwave cooking than simple reheating and defrosting,” he said. “Microwaves offer a quick way to cook many items as varied as vegetables, meat, fish and steamed puddings.
“Because the microwaves heat up the food directly, and are only in operation when the food is in the oven cavity, they are an extremely energy efficient way of cooking.”
Shaddock explained that, with the addition of a grill element, a microwave can now be used to finish off food.
In the past the technology was encumbered by its inability to brown or crisp food.
Caterers can also now choose to buy combination units, comprising a microwave and a convection oven within a single appliance, which he said offers even more flexibility.
“Even faster cooking is possible with turbo-microwaves,” Shaddock added.
“These incorporate fan technology into the microwave oven cavity to ensure even distribution of heat around the dishes.
“The top of the range models also have an infrared element for grilling the food once the food is cooked.”
With so much to recommend them, it’s perhaps no surprise that many caterers often have multiple microwaves in operation.
Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager at Valera, the catering equipment supplier, said the number depends on the needs of the individual catering operation.
If the equipment is used merely to reheat meals, the number of machines needed will be determined by the volume of dishes sold.
In some kitchens a microwave will be allocated for a specific task, for example making desserts.
“But regardless of the environment, caterers need to make sure they have enough units to cope as there is nothing worse than having staff standing around waiting to use a microwave that is already in use,” said Gadhvi.
Like Shaddock, Gadhvi advocates the energy saving virtues of the technology, explaining that, in terms of its capabilities and the speed at which the tasks are performed, “the microwave probably offers better value for money than almost any other piece of equipment in the kitchen”.
However, there are certain, key factors an operator should bear in mind when buying a microwave for a commercial kitchen, according to trade microwave supplier RH Hall, including:
• microwave or combination microwave? A combination, commercial microwave can cook as well as reheat. Many caterers opt for both, allowing them to reheat in one while performing cooking tasks in the other.
• choose the correct oven wattage. Outputs ranging from 1000-1900 watts are most popular as they can be run on a standard 13-amp socket.
• build quality and reliability – make sure it’s solid enough for the intended use. “Good quality stainless steel inside and out is a must,” said Ray Hall, who recommends buying leading brands as they have a reputation for quality and reliability. Avoid microwaves built for domestic use.