My brother in law was telling me the other day that he just sticks whole potatos into the microwave wrapped in wax paper for a quick snack. Is this ok/safe? If you do this, do you have other suggestions to make it tastier? I haven't tried it yet, but am tempted!
Before microwaving (or baking, for that matter) a potato, I always poke it deeply with a fork several times to let steam escape. I prefer the taste of a baked potato to a microwave potato, but will often speed up baking a potato by microwaving it for a few minutes first. You can definitely microwave until done.
After it is done, butter and salt and pepper are good, simple accompaniments. Shredded cheese melts nicely over the warm potato, but a crispy melted cheese poured over the potato is really amazing. Other good toppings would be sour cream, bacon, chives, green onions, and caramelized onions.
Seconding poking with a fork. Once you explode a potato in the microwave, you will never, ever do it again.
I actually like to do a hybrid for a quick snack. I'll preheat the toaster oven before microwaving. As soon as the potato is done in the microwave, I'll rub the outside with some olive oil, sprinkle kosher salt on it, then give it another 5-10 minutes in the oven/toaster oven to crisp up the skins. A lot of people will microwave-only cook them, but I don't really like a potato without a crispy skin. These don't get as properly crispy as a fully oven-baked potato would, but they're much closer than just microwaving, which tends to make skins a little soggy.
Another option for quick snacks: bake a bunch of potatoes at once, and turn them into twice-baked. These reheat really quickly and you can microwave or bake them (to reheat), both are quick reheat methods compared to baking an entire potato.
You can find recipes online, but the general idea is that you bake the potatoes, cut them in half, scoop out the insides, mash them with butter/milk/sour cream/bacon/salt/cheese/chives/onion (whatever you want, there's really no wrong way here), and then scoop that mix back into the hollowed out shells. Then, you bake them again for a short amount of time.
They're delicious, and they're quick to reheat - bonus, they also freeze very well, so I make a batch of 10 potatoes (which comes out to 20 twice-baked halves) at a time. Here is a recipe that is a great start as a guide for cooking times, but you'll find there is a ton of room for experimentation with ingredients here.
One thing to keep in mind is that some people believe nutrients will be destroyed in the microwave, so if that's a concern it might be worth baking them fully in the oven (I know, much less convenient, just throwing it out there). Caveat: some articles online not only refute that, but suggest that oven cooking may also destroy nutrients. It seems that it depends on the food item in question, along with cooking time and comparable method (boiling, steaming, baking). See related question about microwaves vs nutrients.
For a nicer texture, microwave the potato 3-4 minutes (more or less based on size of potato)(and after poking the potato well), until it is cooked enough that it gives slightly to a gentle squeeze.
Take it out of the microwave and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before unwrapping and eating.
The alfoil holds in the steam from the potato and continues to cook it, producing a result much closer to oven-baking.
Last night, my flatmate popped whole scrubbed potatoes (4x) into a plastic shopping bag (like you get from the supermarket), along with perhaps 2cm of water. She tied the bag up and microwaved the whole lot for 3 minutes.
Perfectly cooked potatoes. I was amazed. She has been cooking potatoes like this for a couple of years with no incidents. But I have always been slightly wary about plastic in the microwave. Apparently in her experience, if you use coloured plastic bags, they leach colour onto the microwave plate...yikes.
I will be one of the first people to say that it is not safe.
I have no idea what happened. It was three small potatoes, on a plate, in the microwave (before that, I had only done a single potato at a time). I put 'em in the microwave while I was taking a shower, as I was going to make a hash for breakfast.
When I came out of the shower, there were two charred remains of a potato, one of which was glowing. I have no idea what happened to the third potato. Maybe it was reduced to ashes.
The burning smell was bad ... it took me months of repeated cleanings trying to get the smell to go away, but it was nasty. And the tray in my microwave broke a few weeks after the incident (just randomly cracked in half) ... I have no idea if they were related, but I blame the potato.
Now, since that incident, I've learned that multiple round things near each other in the microwave is bad (might've been an episode of Mythbusters or Brainiac, I can't remember), so it might've been the fact that I had three potatoes in there at once. It might also have been an imperfect potato (you know how you sometimes get that odd black splotch or a void in the middle of a potato? I have no idea how that might affect microwaving).
Never again will I microwave a potato. Normally, I make a few extras when I'm baking some up, wrap 'em in foil, and stash 'em in the fridge, so I'm all ready for when I want to make a hash, I just didn't have any ready on that particular day.
update : So, in response to today's down-vote ... proof that I'm not crazy (at least not about this one) ... other people who have had flaming potatoes (some with pictures; the third one has an example of the glowing I was talking about):
I'm not going to claim it's a regular occurance, but it's not like I'm the only person to have it happen, either ... it happens often enough that if you're planning on microwaving potatoes, you should be prepared that you may end up with this outcome.
This kind of disaster should not happen if you:
Make sure the potatoes have some sort of moisture (wrap in plastic, put on a plate with water in it, etc.)
Perforate the potatoes, or cut them in half
Start with less time and lower power, appropriate to the size of the potato. Small potatoes need less time and lower power.
I can make the same thing happen to potatoes in a standard oven. Crank the heat, leave them in way too long...
Unless you are taking a tiny spritz of a shower, that was waaaaaaay too long to leave potatoes in the microwave. Small potatoes -- even ten minutes at top power would likely be too much.