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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is microwaving a good way to cook fish and shellfish?

After a long day sometimes one's too pooped to cook. I have a stash of swai and shelled wild caught Gulf shrimp in the freezer; it seems like these should cook well in the microwave. Sometimes that really is easier, given clean up.

Any thoughts on actually doing this? Haven't tried it, but it should work well. This is the research to plan the experiment stage.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

whitefish cooked in parchment with vegetables and rice

Cooking fish in a microwave oven is challenging at best, and generally speaking, a recipe for disaster.

The way these ovens work is by creating a blanket of microwaves surrounding the food inside. Those high frequency waves penetrate the food and excite the molecules inside, predominantly the water molecules. In essence, the microwaves excite the H2O molecules, heating them and subsequently the food that containing the water.

In doing so the water often turns to steam and evaporates. This reduces the moisture in the food. At the same time, the microwaves also excite the other molecules such as the protein in the fish or shrimp that you want to cook, and between that and the loss of moisture it can make the seafood tough and chewy. This can happen with any ingredient, but the delicate fish and seafood are more susceptible.

As such, if you are going to cook your fish in the microwave, it is a good idea to do this along with other ingredients that can help absorb the microwaves - especially moist ingredients that can create steam and keep your fish moist.

For example, folding the shrimp into cooked rice with some sauce could be a good strategy. Cooking the seafood with more sauce could be another strategy.

Another way to cook your fish that is quick, easy, and reduces clean up is to use your regular oven and cook en papillote - in paper or foil. Here are some recipes to get you started:

Mediterranean Whitefish in Foil
Whitefish in Foil with Vegetables and Tomato Sauce
Whitefish in Foil with Mustard Sauce
Halibut in Foil with White Beans and Olives
Salmon in Parchment with Mangoes
Shrimp Scampi in Parchment

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet