“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
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
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,
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).
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.