When deciding what to write about in this space, my measuring stick is usually "if I haven't heard of it, then it's likely my readers haven't heard of it."
That editorial assumption may not be accurate for today's chosen topic: inverter microwave ovens. So forgive me if this is either familiar or not informative.
As the old joke goes, what I and my wife make for dinner is often reservations (okay, mostly phone calls for delivery). In other words, we don't cook - busy lifestyle, both working long hours, we both burn water, the usual. And when we do cook, our victual preparation consists primarily of just popping something into the microwave.
This lack of culinary activity explains why I never heard of inverter microwave ovens.
If you haven't heard of inverter microwaves and you do cook, you may find the following as fascinating as I did.
What's an inverter microwave?
Non-inverter microwaves are like cars that travel at one speed - turn on a microwave at it goes from 0-60, then stays at 60. While great for a lot of quickie cooking, this all-or-nothing temperature is not so great for cooking food that has to simmer or cook longer at a lower temperature.
Inverter technology, however, gives you the ability to adjust cooking temperatures in a microwave oven, essentially giving you the same control over heat as you would if you fiddled the knobs on a stove top or conventional oven.
An inverter microwave model doesn't replace your convection gas or electric oven. All microwaves are essential "moist heat" cookers - used for steaming, for instance, rather than baking. When you microwave, you usually keep the item covered in cellophane to retain the moisture, which also retains vitamins and water-soluble nutrients. An inverter merely provides more variation for steam/moist cooking.
For instance, you wouldn't poach fish in a standard microwave, but you could in an inverter - and, according to Panasonic, the only manufacturer to make inverter models (I found one GE microwave with inverter technology, the $300 GE Profile 2.2 cubic-foot countertop JES2251SJ), an inverter would do the poaching around 20 percent faster. A turkey breast can be cooked moist and brown in 30 minutes in an inverter rather than three hours.
An inverter would make steaming vegetables a lot easier than on a stovetop (no pot of boiling water or special steamer needed), and you also could keep stacks of pancakes or waffles warm and moist as you cook a pile of them, something you couldn't do in a standard microwave.
Knowing that inverter microwave cooking is a bit unusual, Panasonic, along with the Culinary Institute of America, has created the "Master Chefs Microwave Recipes Made Easy" cookbook. Panasonic sells the spiral bound book for $20, but you can get it for free when you buy one of the company's inverter models. Or, you can check out a PDF of the book here.
Or, you can check out a series of videos Panasonic has created with a chef from the Culinary Institute to show you how to cook dishes you wouldn't think could be cooked in a microwave.
How do inverter models compare to microwaves that incorporate convection cooking capabilities? I honestly don't know. But I found this explanatory article on combined microwave/convection models. Plus, my buddy Josh over at Techlicious actually tested an older Panasonic inverter model, and you can read the result review here.
Inverter microwave models
Earlier this spring, Panasonic launched five new stainless steel Genius Prestige inverter models:
- NN-SE982S ($300, pictured), a 2.2 cubic foot stainless model with a new Electrostatic Touch Dial with blue LED backlight for finger-touch adjustment, along with one-touch quick-access buttons for popcorn, Sensor Cook, Sensor Reheat and Turbo Defrost, which lets you defrost quickly.
- NN-SE782S ($260), 1.6 cubic foot, a smaller version of the 982S
- NN-SD962S ($250), 2.2 cubic foot stainless steel model with more traditional (i.e. less cool) controls.
- NN-SD762S ($230), a smaller 1.6 cubic foot version of the 962S.
- NN-SD372S ($140), a compact 0.8 cubic foot model.
In the meantime, bon appétit!