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I have started using a microwave steamer to quickly cook the bulk of meals, including mushrooms, gem squash, sausages, steak. These specific examples are extra tasty when browned or caramelised (that is, when fried or baked instead of steamed) but of course that doesn't happen in the microwave.

I considered purchasing a blowtorch, but everything I read about blowtorches including here on Seasoned Advice limits them to specialised tasks such as creme brulee.

Can a culinary blowtorch be used as a general-purpose browning and caramelising tool for steamed food?

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Browning with a blowtorch is the standard method for finishing meat and fish cooked sous-vide. I see no reason why it couldn't also be used for microwaved or steamed dishes, with the caveat that dishes that have too high of a water content will never brown properly (instead, the surface will pop and boil). I'd advise experimenting a bit, to see which side of the "too much water" each dish is on, and whether simply blotting the surface dries them enough for browning.

UPDATED TO ADD: I'm also going to advise you to get a hardware store blowtorch, not a culinary blowtorch. A standard plumber's blowtorch is cheaper, and has significantly more flame and a larger fuel tank.

  • You might be able to dry the top of the food first w/ a hair dryer, or at least a fan. Or a warm oven – Joe Nov 28 '18 at 18:35
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    You can also use them (blowtorches) to melt cheese for nachos. When my wife makes nachos I hear the microwave beeping and usually get some soggy ones. When I make them there is a click then the glorious hissing of a MAPP torch melting and lightly browning the cheese. – RudyB Nov 29 '18 at 2:32
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    @RudyB I used to do this but starting with an initial softening in the microwave. I found a blowtorch to very rapidly brown a small area and only a very thin surface layer. The plumbing one was better than the chef's one, if held a lot further away, but even then it didn't seem a very good way of heating the bulk. I felt a wider flame would have been better – Chris H Nov 29 '18 at 6:40
  • Oh, right, not a culinary blowtorch. Note added to the answer. – FuzzyChef Nov 29 '18 at 18:32
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A blowtorch can technically be used for these tasks, but it'd be annoying and inefficent to do so.

The basic issue is that a blowtorch is too hot and transfers too much heat. Quick heat transfer is exactly what you want for creme brulee, where you need to caramelize the sugar on top without overcooking the custard underneath. But the foods you mention don't brown from caramelization, but from the Maillard reaction, which takes place at a lower temperature over a longer period of time (technically at higher temperatures too, but you wouldn't notice because you're also turning it to charcoal). If you turn the blowtorch on a microwaved steak, you can easily put a black crust on parts of it, but it'll be difficult and time-consuming to evenly brown it.

It is possible to get a "heat spreader" for a blowtorch, which might give you better results. Still, plan to burn a bunch of food before you get your technique down.

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