A hot take: Not all frozen meals should be microwaved

When “conventional” heating instructions take precedence, and when they can be thrown to the wayside

lindsay-smith-potstickers

Pan fried potstickers often turn out better than those that are microwaved. 

Lindsay Smith | Cavalier Daily

Most people keep one or two frozen meals on hand for those busy days when a leftover potato and a wrinkled green bell pepper comprise the entirety of their fridge. But a persistent question frequently haunts my mind as a pre-made dinner consumer — are the optional oven or stove-top directions worth the extra time or will my meal taste just as good in the microwave?

Based on personal experience and some vaguely scientific research, I have concluded that different meals respond differently to the microwave. Thus, for three classically delicious freezer dinner-time snacks — personal pizza, potstickers and chicken pot pie — I have varying advice to offer.

Personal Pizzas

Larger frozen pizzas, due to their size, must be cooked in a conventional oven. But for personal frozen pizzas — like the Red Baron Singles I buy from Harris Teeter — customers are presented with several options when it comes to heating. 

Heating them in the oven for 20 minutes may be worth it — although in a crunch, the three minutes in the microwave are technically a feasible choice. My only issue with microwaving is that it tends to lead to an unevenly cooked pizza. A lot of the time, half the pizza turns out so burned it’s impossible to cut through and the other half turns out ice cold.

Another point of consideration is that while the 20 minute oven option may seem like a waste of time for such a small dish, it provides the possibility of heating two pizzas at once. Each single size box comes with two pizzas, but the microwave instructions are explicit in their denial that you can cook two at the same time. 

Personally, one small pizza is unlikely to fill my stomach, so being able to heat two pizzas at a time in the oven cuts down on the time disparity between the microwave and the classic oven. Adding this to the overall tastier results for the pizza from the oven means in this situation, microwaving is the wrong choice.

Potstickers

I like to buy the Pork Gyoza Potstickers from Trader Joe’s, and through much trial and error, I have determined that they are another microwave no-go. Their overall cook time in the microwave is three minutes — when pan-fried, they take closer to 10 minutes.

The difference here is by far the most extreme. When microwaved, the dumplings often turn out stiff — they fail to steam properly, and the seam on the top of the stickers ends up rock hard. They are heated thoroughly, and the flavor is the same, but the dough is not as supple and delicious as it should be.

Pan fried, the dough shows its true colors. Literally — it turns a delicious pale, slightly see-through tan, which is far from the solid white of the microwaved control group. The potstickers are way easier to bite, and the bottoms are a delicious golden brown.

When paired with soy sauce, the pan fried potstickers taste like they could have been made in a restaurant. The extra seven minutes spent prepping is by far worth the payout.

Chicken Pot Pie

The one pot pie that has caught my attention out of the many that have vied for it —  and there truly have been many — is the Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie. With an obscenely flaky top crust and an elusively present bottom crust, this is a pot pie that beats all others.

But while cooking it in the oven reveals the full prowess of its superbity, is the 60 plus minute “conventional” cook time worth it when compared to the 10 minute microwave option? For me, the answer is no.

There is no way I can smell a pot pie heating for a full hour without getting a taste. It’s almost unfair of Marie to even ask that of me. And in addition, the microwaved version often ends up being a relatively close replica of its oven-heated sibling.

The crust may not brown as nicely, but the contents get just as warm and taste just as good. In this case, I have to argue that the microwave option has a better return ratio for your time and is thus  the better choice.

related stories