Recipe: Jailhouse sous-vide pasta and toilet broccoli
The major obstacle to cooking in prison is not a lack of food: the kitchen was the scene of a daily heist that went on under the guards’ noses, silently and profitably for the inmates who were in on it. Bags of 50 hot dogs cost two packs of cigarettes each, and a 5lb block of cheese was only one. It was your problem if you got caught with it, but the price was right.
No, the big obstacle, if all you had was a cheap hot pot/stinger and a plastic spoon, was gear. And the solution was in the garbage.
Every trash can had a plastic bag, and underneath it was a clean one ready for replacement. Beginners had to dive in and under to snatch out the extra before the guards noticed, but Rusty had friends who were garbagemen who supplied him with full rolls. He had the bags; I had dry spaghetti, canned tomato sauce, a stick of pepperoni, and a broken hot pot. He took the ingredients, and half an hour later handed half of them back in the form of a hot, greasy red bowl of delicious.
I had my own stinger by then, making coffee with it every day, but I was amazed by the feat. I knew it was electricity at work, but how did he boil a whole pound of spaghetti? I pounded on the wall to get his attention. I needed to know.
“Ain’t you been paying attention to the TV?” he yelled back. “You gotta watch the commercials. They got the same things out now that we been doing for years in here. Boil-in-the-bag rice!”
We had the cheapest and thinnest garbage bags known to man; a lit cigarette could poke a hole through a dozen of them. The stinger could have melted the whole roll -- unless there is water in the bag. The smallest bit will absorb the heat and boil safely. The spaghetti is more dangerous -- when dry, at least -- than the stinger. Rusty dropped the spaghetti in a bag of boiling water, then combined the rest of the ingredients in another bag, tied the bundle real tight, and dropped that in as well, like jailhouse sous vide. It looked like he was simmering a softball, but it was decent marinara. When he was done, he released the water with a few holes carefully poked through the bag.