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Coffee Maker Cooking: Brew Up Your Next Dinner

A slice of salmon with ginger, garlic and soy sauce sits in the coffee maker's carafe. Sliced broccoli and cauliflower are steamed in the basket while the salmon poaches below.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A few months ago, we introduced you to the wild world of dishwasher cooking. Poach salmon while cleaning dirty plates? No problem.

But some of you expressed concerns about having your sockeye sit so close to soapy water and the high energy cost of running a dishwasher.

Well, we've stumbled upon another wacky cooking method that may overcome these issues: using your coffee maker.

From steamed broccoli and couscous to scrambled eggs and poached salmon, the possibilities appear endless.

The chefs at Chowhound have brewed up entire breakfasts and lunches in the coffee maker. And the kitchen wizards at the blog developed recipes for pumpkin soup, chutney, even cinnamon buns, all made in the humble appliance.

So why in the heck would anyone not living in a freshman dorm ever want to do this? Well, if you're a soldier deployed in a war zone, a coffee maker might be your only option for a home-cooked meal.

The coffee maker contains three cooking methods in one appliance: You can steam in the basket, poach in the carafe and grill on the burner.
/ Morgan Walker/ NPR
Morgan Walker/ NPR
The coffee maker contains three cooking methods in one appliance: You can steam in the basket, poach in the carafe and grill on the burner.

"My nephew came home from Afghanistan complaining about the food in the mess hall," says Jody Anderson, a retired photographer in southern Oregon. "But the soldiers were allowed only to have coffee makers in their rooms."

So Anderson started developing recipes for the coffee maker, including ones for mac 'n' cheese, short ribs and chicken soup.

"I put all my recipes in a little book and sent it over to the boys in Afghanistan," she tells The Salt. "I also sent split peas and canned ham so my nephew could make split pea soup." Anderson also posted some of the recipes on Facebook with a few tips.

As Anderson describes it, the design of a traditional coffee maker gives you three basic cooking techniques:

  • Steam: The basket at the top is a great place to steam vegetables. You can throw in broccoli, cauliflower or any vegetable that cooks in about the same time as those.
  • Poach: The carafe at the bottom serves as a simple vessel for poaching fish and chicken. You can also use it to hard-boil eggs or make couscous and oatmeal.
  • Grill: This technique is a bit more advanced — and time-consuming. But if you're really itching for a grilled cheese sandwich or a cinnamon bun in a motel room, the coffee maker's burner can serve as a miniature grill.
  • Here at NPR's Science Desk, we tried making the classic coffee maker meal: poached salmon with steamed broccoli and couscous. The veggies steam up in the basket while the couscous and salmon take turns in the carafe.

    The salmon looked a little scary while it was poaching. But the whole meal actually turned out pretty tasty.

    The finished product: Poached salmon, steamed broccoli and couscous all prepared in a Mr. Coffee.
    / Morgan Walker/ NPR
    Morgan Walker/ NPR
    The finished product: Poached salmon, steamed broccoli and couscous all prepared in a Mr. Coffee.

    Was it gourmet? No. But it was healthful and quick to prepare — about 20 minutes total. And the cleanup was superfast.

    Overall, we thought the salmon poached in the coffee maker was slightly better than the one we cooked up in the dishwasher. And coffee maker cooking is clearly more energy efficient than running a dishwasher cycle or heating up an entire oven.

    What about compared to frying the fish in a pan? Well, that's probably more of a tossup.

    Coffee makers run at about 1,000 watts, while the stove puts out about 1,500 watts, depending on the type or brand. So the coffee maker might be slightly more efficient, but both cooking methods contribute such a small amount to a home's electrical bill that the difference is just splitting hairs.

    Besides, for Anderson it's not about efficiency but about the joy of cooking with a Mr. Coffee. "It's just so darn fun," she says. "I tell you this: I will never be hungry in a hotel room again."

    Recipe: Coffee Maker Dinner With Poached Salmon, Couscous And Steamed Vegetables

  • Add chopped broccoli and cauliflower into the basket until it is halfway full.
  • Add the maximum amount of water into the coffee maker's reservoir. Run the coffeemaker until the reservoir has just enough water left in it to cook the couscous. Stop the appliance.
  • Dump out the water in the carafe. Add the couscous to the carafe.
  • With a fork, mix up the vegetables in the basket to ensure even steaming. Then restart the coffee maker until the cycle finishes. Let couscous sit for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Keep the vegetables in the basket (it takes two cycles to steam-cook them). Place the salmon in the carafe. Add some soy sauce, ginger, garlic or whatever seasoning you'd like. Fill the reservoir with about 3 cups of water and run the cycle.
  • Let the salmon sit in the hot water until it's opaque and flaky (for us it took only 7 minutes). Remove salmon and vegetables. Plate.
  • Note: We had a hard time getting the cooked salmon out of the carafe. So we used our hands. But if you have any other ideas, let us know in the comments.

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    Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.