The publisher Hamlyn is soon to release a new series of books called QuickCook. There’s a One Pot, a Cakes and Bakes, a Chicken and so on. The shtick is that every recipe in the series can theoretically be cooked in either 10, 20 or 30 minutes. Hoi sin chicken and bean sprout wraps take 20 minutes; “tricolore pitta pizzas” 10 minutes. The food looks good, so we’ll forgive them their timely opportunism. The fastest-selling non-fiction book in British history is Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals, which sold over 700,000 copies in two months when it was released in 2010. (Jamie’s 15-minute version comes out this autumn in time for Christmas, featuring product placement from Uncle Ben’s.)
Quick dishes are the most important part of any cook’s repertoire. Though I love a braised lamb shoulder, a rich and gelatinous beef stew, homemade meringues, glacially-set cold custards and the spicy calm that descends on a well-rested curry, most of the time – like most people – I just need to get food on the table.
That food should be simple. The well-documented problems with Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals were that a) they invariably took longer than 30 minutes to prepare; and b) since each had three or four components, the washing up often took longer than the cooking.