For the first recipe in our MacGyver Chef series, I tackled one of the lowliest of kitchen gadgets: The coffee maker. Since it sucks at brewing coffee, I wondered if there was some other use for it...
Gallery haters take note, to skip the slides and jump to a single long post, click here.
Equipment: Just your bog-standard, hotel-issue drip coffee maker. Mine was $25. They're all pretty much the same.
• Boneless skinless chicken breasts (tenders are smaller and cook faster)
• 1-2 pats butter or margarine
• ~ 1/2 cup couscous
• Seasonings—I used one of Trader Joe's herb/spice blends
Notes: MacGyver Chef is about doing something with as little gear as possible. So even though I have a full kitchen at my disposal, I limited all prep to the coffee maker and its carafe. I used this guide from WikiHow as a starter, though I veered from the recipe in flavoring the chicken and in my choice of a side. Remember to salt and pepper everything—this dish dangerously toes the line between edible and horribly bland, so season the crap out of it.
Step 1: Measure out about a centimeter of water in the carafe and dump it in the coffee maker's reservoir to heat up. Then stick your chicken and butter in the carafe and douse it with seasoning. Flip the coffeemaker on and hot water will soon flow into the carafe.
Try to get the water to cover less than half the chicken; we're poaching, not boiling, so if the water gets too high, dump the excess out in the sink. Let it cook 15 minutes on this side, stirring once so the butter mixes in with the poaching liquid.
Step 2: Flip your chicken. You'll notice here that the chicken is cooking, but there's no Maillard reaction (that's what Alton-Brown-loving nerds call browning). Coffee makers just don't get hot enough to brown meat. I later tried to pan-fry a cutlet on the burner and it refused to take on any color even then. It's probably just as well, because if the coffeemaker got hot enough to brown meat, it'd burn the crap out of your coffee—and your mouth. Let it cook for another 15 minutes on this side, then remove from the carafe. It's time to prep your side dish.
Step 3: I chose couscous. The original recipe suggested instant mashed potatoes, but it also used the word "flakes" to describe these so-called potatoes, which is creepy enough to be discouraging. I decided to try an entirely different starch. Couscous cooks incredibly fast and all it takes is hot liquid, which coincidentally we already have. Taste your liquid, and if it needs more seasoning, adjust it. I found mine needed extra everything: herbs, salt, pepper and even a little more butter.
Step 4: Dump in couscous in a 1:1 ratio with the liquid. I just eyeballed it, but be careful not to put in more couscous than liquid or it'll end up crunchy. Put the couscous-filled carafe back on the burner and let it sit for about five minutes or until the liquid's all absorbed.
Step 5: Finally, plate it up and serve with wine. I selected a Cabernet Sauvignon from the esteemed Charles Shaw (2008, an excellent year) to pair with the dish. It didn't seem to complement the chicken until I'd drunk three-quarters of the bottle, at which point it became delicious. Such is the subtlety of this particular bottle, I suppose. If you've got more than $2 to spend on wine, a Chardonnay might be the more obvious choice.
Glory shot. If I'd had any, I'd have steamed some asparagus in the basket where the coffee usually goes. (To steam veggies, you just run water through the machine a few times.) I could have then layered it with the chicken and couscous for some color, but one can't be too picky.
The Results: Well, it tasted like poached chicken breast. That's pretty much the most boring way to prepare the most boring cut of any animal I can think of, but the coffee maker did a perfectly fine job of it. The chicken was moist and the texture was about right, and it is an incredibly easy way to make a meal. I could see this recipe being useful if you're stuck in a hotel room somewhere—and just happen to have a raw chicken breast on you.
Tomorrow's MacGyver Chef recipe will be an urban-legend favorite: Fish steamed in the dishwasher. Stay tuned.
Taste Test is our weeklong tribute to the leaps that occur when technology meets cuisine, spanning everything from the historic breakthroughs that made food tastier and safer to the Earl-Grey-friendly replicators we impatiently await in the future.