This post originally appeared in the October 24, 2022 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
Many people either fear or detest frying. I am not one of them, lumpia having been one of the first things I learned to cook. And yet there are times, I will concede, that a proper fry isn’t in the cards, even for me.
Usually, this is when I am 85 percent through the cooking of a meal — noodles, for example, or a vat of congee — and think, this would be better with crunchy, fried alliums. Because many things are much improved by this garnish, I try to keep a jar of either fried garlic or fried shallots, both found readily at Asian grocery stores, on hand at all times. But we all falter, and so, sometimes I find myself in desperate need of these crispy bits, but with a full stove, a sink piled with dishes, and no will left to fry. What I do have is a microwave.
The microwave is a contentious appliance. For a brief period, I flirted with being a no-microwave household, falling for the fearmongering and the myth of toaster-oven superiority (both devices are good, but not interchangeable). In this very particular instance, my microwave is a lifesaver. This is thanks to a technique I learned from chef Sheldon Simeon’s Cook Real Hawai’i, in which alongside his fried garlic noodles he includes a recipe for microwave-fried garlic. Exactly as it sounds, it is the key to crispy, golden, fried goodness, without ever turning on the stove.
The method is as follows: You put your minced or thinly sliced garlic in a microwave-safe bowl and add enough neutral oil to cover it. For later, you’ll also want to set a sieve over another bowl. You give the garlic and oil a mix, and you put the bowl in the microwave. You microwave first for a minute, then you open and check your mixture. Then, you go to 30-second intervals, checking in between. As the garlic takes on color, going from vampiric to sun-kissed, you drop that to 15-second intervals — less, if anxiety strikes you — until you reach the golden brown of a baguette. Under-fried garlic is better than over-fried, which will leave an acrid taste in your mouth. So, when the garlic reaches that golden color, one shade lighter than perfect, use a pot-holdered hand to retrieve the bowl, and then pour it over the ready-to-go sieve. Sprinkle salt — and, per Simeon, sugar, but I find it optional — onto the still-warm garlic bits, let them cool, then use as a garnish on anything. I store any extras in a deli container on the counter; they usually get eaten as a snack the same day or end up topping another dish.
The process will have you standing by the microwave for a few minutes, but the extent of your involvement is pressing a button and opening a door — undoubtedly simpler than a stovetop fry. Leaving about an inch of space between the top of the oil and the top of the bowl, I haven’t had issues with splatter, making it cleaner than a stovetop fry, too. In one swoop, you have both crunchy garlic and infused garlic oil. (That oil is a flavor powerhouse: Use it to make crispy eggs or stir-fried vegetables or to quickly add flavor to a bowl of instant ramen. I usually use it within one day, but don’t let it sit in the fridge for longer than three.)
The success of this method led me to wonder whether it could also work for shallots. The answer is yes, with the microwave method resulting in craggly golden strings that took a pantry clean-out kale-and-rice soup to another level. In my experience, shallots, with their thin strands, cook even faster. And the method can even extend, one Instagram follower told me, to the scallion ginger sauce that’s usually made by pouring hot oil over aromatics.
Unlike my Instant Pot, a device that promises many possible uses but for which I struggle to find a single real purpose in my cooking routine, my microwave now feels specialized and essential, coming to my aid in times of desperation. Every time I use this method — which is often, as I keep forgetting to buy the pre-fried garlic — I’m thankful for my change of heart.