"I made beer can chicken last night," said Guy #1. "I rammed the chicken down onto an open can of beer and threw that sucker on the grill. Best chicken ever."
"No way, dude," said Guy #2. "I once made beef stew on the manifold while I drove from Des Moines to Minneapolis. Got there, used a dirty flannel shirt to get it off the manifold, and dug in. It was great."
"I can beat that," I said. "I make catfish in the dishwasher."
Raucous mocking and disbelief. Nobody makes food in the dishwasher. Can't be done.
Or... can it?
Dishwasher catfish came into existence after I'd been fishing in the mighty Mississippi in the muddy island flats near where Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa meet. I'd caught a couple of small catfish (not the monster "grandma" catfish that can gnaw your arm off) and when I got home I discovered the stove was broken. Couldn't get it to work. I was hungry, and there's not a lot of options for food purchase after 9 p.m. in rural Iowa. I debated going begging for food at the neighbor's house, but then my eyes lit on the dishwasher and the roll of foil I'd just bought at Fareway. Maybe... just maybe.
I don't remember what I threw in that first packet. I'm pretty sure it contained lemon and garlic, maybe parsley. Cilantro was a foreign thing in small-town Iowa in 1998, and the only ginger went into cookies at Christmas. Whatever it was, I wrapped it up, threw it in the dishrack, and started the dishwasher (this was before Energy Star appliances were common). An hour and a half later, I opened it up, cracked open a Leinie's, and was rewarded with an amazing meal and a great "guy cooking" story.
Recently, I was talking to Willy about this dishwasher catfish, and he told me I had to put it up as a recipe (it'll be up a little bit later, as this week's Recipe of the Week). Since I was already going to be running the dishwasher, I decided to see what else would cook in the allotted time. It's the same amount of water, the same time spent drying. Why not, right? We invited some friends over (and incidentally, you know they're real friends when they drive down from Santa Monica to OC on Oscar night to be fed potentially bad food that doesn't show up until Best Actress).
And so the "Will It Dishwasher?" experiment was born.
Catfish: Perfectly flaky and with all the seasonings permeating the fish, this is truly the best way to make catfish, even better than deep-fried (deep sacrilege, I know--sorry, Arkansans and Mississippians!). It's almost worth using the dishwasher as the standard way to do this, though in this current house I think the dishwasher's dry cycle is a little bit short.
Potatoes: Not even close. Had I thought about the physics at work here (it takes 20 minutes of full-on boiling to make a whole potato cook through), I'd have known this was a non-starter from the word "go". It's not my fault, I was busy staring at girls during physics class in high school, and my science elective in college was acoustics.
Carrots: I sliced them thinly, mixed them with butter, brown sugar and freshly-squeezed orange juice, then wrapped them up. An hour and a half later, I had hard carrots and orangey-brown goop. Too dense.
Rice: I had visions of Vietnamese-style baked rice. Rice and water went into a pot, which I wrapped in both plastic and foil and placed on the bottom rack. I didn't exactly get claypot rice, but amazingly, when I removed the (by now thoroughly soaked) jasmine rice from the wrapped pot and put it over medium heat on the stove, in less than five minutes I had the fluffiest rice I've ever created. There may be a feature in this bug.
Brussels sprouts: Wrapped up with a little butter, some salt and pepper, and a hefty pinch of whole caraway seeds, then wrapped and washed. These were tiny new sprouts, and they worked surprisingly well. Neither crunchy nor soggy, and with the offensive brassica reek contained within the washer, these were a surprise hit. Willy said you can't overcook Brussels sprouts; apparently you can't undercook them, either.
Spoon bread: Really a kind of buttermilk soufflé, this was meant to replace the hush puppies that are required with fried catfish. This didn't work because the washer, even on heated dry, doesn't get hot enough to allow for oven spring. Had I run it through twice, though, I would have ended up with a sort of cornless corn pudding, which could be a good thing. Perhaps individual containers next time.
Eggs: Visions of soft-cooked eggs sliding out of their shells danced in my head. Imagine if you could just load up individually-wrapped whole eggs, leave the dishwasher on the timer, then wake up to breakfast. Sadly, after an entire cycle, they were still liquid. I like my eggs baveux (that's fancy French for "drooling", i.e., not solid), but this was just plain raw, both in the shell and cracked into buttered foil.
Corn on the cob: Wrapped up two to a packet, no seasoning, no nothing (the corn on the cob available this time of year is that bred-for-sweetness Frankencorn, but it was what was available), this was great straight out of the dishwasher. Very slightly underdone (did I mention that I think my dishwasher cheated?) but really good.
Strawberry cobbler: This was never, ever, ever going to happen. Nothing with the mass of an entire loaf pan of cobbler was ever going to be done in the short time at the low temperature a dishwasher can generate. Still, there was room and I threw it in. When I took it out, it was still stone cold at the edges, any temperature gains transferred through the metal loaf pan or the foil overwhelmed by the pulsing, gravitational mass of cold in the center of the pan. Still, it baked up nicely in the oven.
TV dinner: My wife suggested a TV dinner, perhaps with the idea of some truly lazy bachelor throwing a tray of whatever in with his dishes while he went to go tinker in the garage for an hour or so. Sadly, the beef enchilada dinner we chose had structural integrity issues: water seeped into the flimsy plastic cover and flooded what little taste the entrée had to begin with out into the drain. Sadly, this probably improved the nutritional impact of the food.
Verdict: FAIL., on multiple levels (both gastronomic and experimental).
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The result, as you aspiring physicists out there have long since grasped, is that food destined to be cooked in the dishwasher needs to be small in surface area, small in mass, and not very dense. The duration of the heat isn't enough to cause heat transfer into liquids, so even though the temperature almost certainly exceeds 100°C (212°F) in the dishwasher, it won't cause liquids to boil or even to simmer. You can't brown anything in a dishwasher, so stick with things that can be poached, such as light fishes; you might be able to get away with thin slices of chicken breast.
In the meantime, catfish it is, and Brussels sprouts; you could run the rice through the cycle and finish it on the stove while the remainder stays warm in the ambient heat of the washer. Just make sure you close the door before all that residual heat gets out.