One Pot Wonders

chicken-kormaPossibly the most glorious thing about having an interest in food and cooking is that you will never exhaust the endless combinations of ingredients and methods available to you. The only limitation is your own imagination. We create our own mental boundaries by allowing our preconceived notions to direct us. We inherited many of these ideas from the cooks we grew up with and while many are right, some were folly at the time and have just served to build a fence around our own thoughts on a subject.   I guarantee that most people reading the title of this article will have conjured up thoughts of stews and soups. While both are important to one pot cooking, and there are many variations, we tend to forget that the one pot genre covers other single vessels such as woks and frying pans, roasting tins, casseroles and pie dishes. Once you start expanding the idea of the vessel itself a whole new world opens up to you. Now we can also eliminate the idea that all OP (one pot) efforts have to be slow cooked. I love slow cooking for a number of reasons, but particularly for the build up of wonderful aromas throughout the house as the meal draws closer. I love it when my taste buds are literally going wild with anticipation and, sure enough, that first mouthful inevitably produces a pleasure explosion that is hard to beat. But of course not everything done OP style needs to be slow cooked. Stir fry’s and risottos are very quick and tasty.

Beef & Vegetable CasseroleThere are many great benefits to OP cooking. Obviously the washing up is at a minimum and that’s a huge plus factor. It is the perfect style for people with limited kitchen space. It is a great way of retaining all the vitamins and minerals from the food you are cooking as they all mingle with the juices in the pot and you will also find that you tend not to need a lot of fat or oil. You only have to keep an eye on one pot and therefore you avoid the crazy mental arithmetic of working out the order in which to cook separate ingredients for a meal. That certainly reduces the anxiety when you are having people around to eat. Equally it is easy to transport should you be the one cooking a dish and bringing it with you. If you are time pressed you can usually prepare a hearty OP meal in advance and either leave it to slow cook for hours or reheat as necessary. Finally it is a very flexible idea where most recipes can be adjusted to the ingredients you have available. Every country in the world has its own variations on OP cooking. We are known for our stews, the French have wonderful rustic Chicken versions, the Italians are known for Osso Bucco or vats of meat sauce, the Germans love Pork varieties and of course, the Asian nations are known for their spicy stir fries and flavoursome curries; all One Pot wonders.

Obviously any single vessel can be used and considered. A particular favourite of mine would have to be Italian Style Roast chicken done in a plain old roasting tin. Along with roasting the bird and a few spuds, the Italians also cook all the other vegetables in the same dish at the same time. Peppers, thinly sliced courgettes, rosemary and garlic bulbs keep the feta cheese and sun dried tomato crumbed chicken and sliced new potatoes company, as they all bake together. When it comes from the oven it is a sight to behold and the aromas and flavours are even better. However, if you haven’t already done it, I would encourage you to invest in one decent cast iron pot or, as they are commonly known, a Dutch oven. Yes they are without a doubt expensive to buy but the good ones are a lifetime job. A friend of mine is still using one that her mother received as a wedding present! They are called Dutch ovens because heavy cast iron pots were manufactured in the Netherlands as early as the 1600s where braising had been discovered as a good way to cook tougher meats. Wild boar and moose would be slow cooked for hours as the tough fibres were rendered tender and full of flavor. With the Dutch oven Europeans then began adding vegetables, spices and herbs from their own regions and so distinctive national signature dishes emerged.   These pots have good tight fitting lids that retain the moisture in a dish, but the main advantage is that cast iron conducts and retains heat exceptionally well so food cooks evenly either on the hob or in the oven. These days they also come in so many great colors that they can be taken straight to the dining table and still look good. It is definitely an investment that you won’t regret. Do not foolishly buy a cheap imitation as it is false economy. Just save up for the real thing and it will save you money in the long run.

Braised Beef and Guinness CasseroleThis time of year is ideal for one pot cooking. We are all busy with little time for fancy cooking and the weather usually demands comfort food on these darker evenings; beef in beer with herb dumplings, steaming risottos or hearty goulashes. Fish also works really well in one pot, from fish stews, tagines and chowders, prawns with coconut rice or how about a big pot of tasty mussels served simply with some garlic bread. The combinations are endless.

Finally I cannot talk about one pot cooking without mentioning dessert. (You see, you hadn’t even considered it!) Cobblers, crumbles, chocolate fondues, rice pudding, bread and butter pudding are all cooked in just one vessel. Imagine a triumphant family meal with main course and dessert and just two cooking dishes to wash up afterwards? It’s a very attractive proposition. We live in a world that likes to complicate things and convince us that simple is lazy or perhaps boring. Not true I tell you, there are fabulous taste experiences to be thoroughly enjoyed in the simplicity of just one pot. Try it for yourself this week.

I welcome your feedback to pat@jwb.ie

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