My mom is a creative cook. And a darn good one at that.
But when she told me and my sister — way back in 1995 — that she had started cooking salmon in the dishwasher, we just rolled our eyes and shook our heads. Here comes a kitchen catastrophe.
An hour later, mom proved her teenage daughters wrong once again. The salmon was tender, moist and super flavorful. In some ways, it was better than her fish cooked in the oven.
Flash-forward 18 years, and dishwasher cuisine seems to be making a comeback.
A handful of YouTube videos and food blogs are showing off the method. And even Oprah offered up a recipe for an entire lunch — noodles, asparagus and salmon — prepared in the dishwasher.
So how does it work?
You wrap the salmon tightly in aluminum foil or a cooking bag. Add a lemon wedge, oil and some spices — cilantro, ginger or really, anything that you want. Put the foil package on the top rack and start a normal washing cycle, without adding soap.
That's the traditional method. And it works great. The hot water and steam essentially poach the salmon. And at the low temperature, about 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the fish cooks very slowly, so it turns creamy and soft, as Dan Pashman of the Sporkful podcast tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin.
But is this really worth the time and energy? Running a dishwasher uses a lot of electricity and water. And if you're not adding soap, then you still need to repeat the wash to clean greasy pots and pans. Seems like just a gimmick to impress dinner guests, right?
Not quite, says Italian food writer Lisa Casali. She argues that the method can be quite environmentally friendly. There's just one trick: Instead of using aluminum foil, as many websites recommend, you should put the food into airtight canning jars or food vacuum bags. Then the hot water doesn't touch the food. So you can add soap to the cycle and really clean your dishes while poaching dinner.
Casali has been experimenting with dishwasher cuisine for a few years. And the result is her cookbook Cucinare in Lavastoviglie (Cooking with the dishwasher), which gives recipes for a whole array of dishes, like couscous, veal, tuna and even fruits and desserts.
Dishwasher cooking is best for foods that need to be cooked at low temperatures, Casali says. "After some experiments, I found that it wasn't just a different way to cook — it was a really particular technique," she says. "Something I was looking for years: the way to cook at low temperature at home."
Unfortunately, Casali's book appears to be available only in Italian. But the innovative chef has put together a few how-to videos on Vimeo, with English subtitles, describing top recipes.
Or you can watch Pashman on YouTube cook everything from shrimp and beef to spinach and pears in the dishwasher. Bon appétit!
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you go onto YouTube and you type in: How to cook salmon, you will get a lot of very practical, professional instructional videos. But if you keep scrolling and scrolling, eventually you'll get to grainy amateur videos like this one.
(SOUNDBITE OF A YOUTUBE VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right guys. This kid over here is going to try to cook fish in a dishwasher.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This isn't just fish. This here is salmon. I only do it fancy around here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Excuse me, salmon.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All right.
MARTIN: Samon. OK. Yes, the Internet strongly suggests that you can, indeed, cook salmon in your dishwasher. But of course the Internet is filled with non-truths. So we called up Dan Pashman of sporkful.com to find out what dishwashers can and cannot cook. Hey, Dan.
DAN PASHMAN: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: So apparently this trend has been around. But, honestly, I'd never heard of this. I mean explain how one might use a dishwasher to actually cook salmon?
PASHMAN: Well, you're essentially just poaching it. You know, its heat transfer through hot water. You throw some lemon juice and some sort of liquid on the salmon; a little bit of maybe lemon, salt, seasonings. And then wrap it very, very tightly in foil. And this is really the most important thing when cooking in a dishwasher is to seal the food. And that way you can still wash dishes at the same time. And the soap and the dirt from your dishes don't end up on the food. And the food doesn't corrupt the dishes or the dishwasher.
MARTIN: Now, I know you are a serious person, Dan Pashman. But I do not understand the practical utility of this technique. I mean why would you actually want to do this?
PASHMAN: Well, I was wondering the same thing, in fairness, Rachel. And it turns out that if you want to learn more about dishwasher cooking, you have to go to Italy, which is where I went, via Skype.
PASHMAN: I talked to a woman named Lisa Casali who wrote book called "Cucinare in Lavastoviglie," which translates to "Cooking in a Dishwasher."
PASHMAN: So she literally wrote the book on it. And she says for certain recipes you just can't beat the dishwasher.
LISA CASALI: It wasn't just a different way to cook. It was a really particular technique, something that I was looking for, for years; the way to cook at low temperature at home.
PASHMAN: And cites a lot of other benefits. She says its environmentally friendly, 'cause you're running your dishwasher anyway. You just shove little bits of food into the empty nooks and crannies, and it retains all the meat juices. So you're getting every ounce of meaty goodness that you paid for.
MARTIN: All right, so you can do salmon. But I mean, does it work for other dishes?
PASHMAN: I have tried it. I set out to do some experiments and made butter-poached lobster tail in my dishwasher. I had to run it on the heavy duty cycle but it was quite good. My bourbon-poached pears were outstanding. That's the one I would definitely make again. But I have to admit that the Korean beef didn't really cook quite right. The quail egg didn't cook it all and the mussels kind of atrophied.
MARTIN: All right, in the final analysis: Is this actually a good idea. If you have a perfectly well functioning oven, shouldn't you just default to that?
PASHMAN: Well, I guess you're right that there may not be a situation where this is just flat out the best, most convenient way to cook something. But I will say that I do think that this is a fun party trick that actually works. And I can imagine the scene, right? You invite friends over for dinner. They come into your house and there's no food and the sink is full of dirty dishes. And they're like, Rachel...
MARTIN: Sounds great.
PASHMAN: They're light, Rachel, what gives?
MARTIN: Sounds like a real parties at my house, actually.
PASHMAN: See, Rachel? Maybe this is practical. This is perfect for you.
PASHMAN: And everyone says, Rachel, was going on here? And you throw all the dishes in the dishwasher. And you fill that up - all the nooks and crannies with all different foods. Pour a couple of drinks while the dishwasher runs. And you open it up, set the table and dinner is served. And...
MARTIN: Bada-boom, bada-bing.
PASHMAN: That's right. I mean, it's certainly a meal people are going to remember.
MARTIN: Dan Pashman of Sporkful.com. If you want to see Dan actually trying this experiment, there is a video on our website, npr.org.
Thanks so much, Dan.
Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.