Like Nigella Lawson, we're longtime fans and champions of one of the most maligned pieces of modern kitchen equipment—the meekrowahvay, or microwave, for the uninitiated. We've covered how they can be used to great effect for toasting nuts, making rice, steaming vegetables, whipping up a chocolate cake in 10 minutes flat, and of course, popping a big old batch of popcorn or zapping a Hot Pocket to mouth lava perfection. Microwaves are the most efficient method of heat transfer in your kitchen, using electromagnetic radiation to effectively target water molecules in foods, agitating them at a rate that produces enough friction to generate heat, and eventually vaporizing them. This dehydrating power can be deployed for drying leftover herbs, and also for frying shallots and garlic for a batch of chili crisp.
The Power of the Microwave
Like potato chips, fried shallots and garlic achieve their crispy texture when their water molecules are vaporized during cooking—the characteristic bubbling of deep-frying is visual evidence of this process—and hot oil moves into the empty spaces left behind. The shallots and garlic are essentially being dehydrated, and then filled with oil. Most deep-frying projects are best done on your stovetop, for cooking efficiency and safety reasons, but thanks to their porous texture, shallots and garlic can be easily (and safely) fried to golden brown in a microwave oven. The even heating of a microwave makes quick work of crispy alliums without taking up space on your stove, there's no need to tinker with the flame of a finicky burner or constantly stir the alliums as they cook, and it allows you to make much smaller batches if you're just looking to make a crispy garnish for a salad or serving of noodles.
I was first introduced to this technique by former Cook's Illustrated editor Andrew Janjigian when we were both working together at America's Test Kitchen. One day in the test kitchen he had a little spare time on his hands, and decided to whip up a batch of chili crisp. Not wanting to take up valuable kitchen burner space that other test cooks needed for recipe testing, he turned to the microwave as an experiment for the shallot and garlic-frying.
It worked like a charm, and the method couldn't be easier: Combine sliced shallots or chopped garlic with a neutral oil like canola in a microwave-safe bowl, cook at full power for 5 minutes, give them a stir, and continue to cook in 1 to 2 minutes increments, stirring between each round, until they are lightly golden. At this point, carefully remove the bowl from the microwave, strain the oil into a heatproof container, and lay out your crispy bounty onto paper towels, giving them a sprinkling of salt. For the garlic, I also like to give a very light dusting of powdered sugar, a technique that I picked up working in restaurants that doesn't impart any noticeable sweetness, but just tempers the subtle bitterness of the garlic. Crunchy garnishes ready in a snap, thanks to the trusty, but hard to pronounce, microwave.