This past weekend saw a number of features on making (very) fast food in the papers. Recipes that are designed to be simple midweek suppers, which you can cook and have on the table in 20 minutes. There is certainly a burgeoning trend amongst chefs and food writers to offer up meals that are healthy and can be made in no time at all, ideal for our busy, work-focused generation. Jamie Oliver is one such chef who claims you can create delicious, nutritious classics all in under 15 minutes. It seems that every time I turn on Food Network UK channel, there he is, bashing out meals to 'Buffalo Stance' with such speed that makes McDonalds look slow.
But is it really possible to have these recipes on the table in such a short time? And what is the cost, financial or otherwise, to being able to prepare food so quickly?
The idea behind these meals is to minimise prep time; have all your pots and pans ready to go; the kettle boiled; and to cook the food in intense spices and herbs so that you can inject flavour into your meal fast. There are, however, hidden pitfalls for the amateur cook. First, in order to prepare your food, particularly the chopping of vegetables and salad items or the making of quick pastes and sauces, there is an expectation that you will have a food processor, which can whiz through all of that in a jiffy. But food processors don't come cheap. A quick google reveals that a standard, mid-range processor, with all the necessary accessories, retails at around £150. Can we really expect everyone at home to have one in their kitchen?
The second pitfall is the ingredients. Cooking food fast can produce flavourful dishes, particularly when you are sautéing or pan-frying, with ingredients such as garlic or chilli. But there is a limit to the types of dishes you can create in this way. Some dishes are simply not designed to be made quickly; they benefit from slow, luxurious cooking, which brings out the flavours and allows them to infuse the dish. For example, chili con carne, a classic and popular dish, can take around an hour to make or is even ideal for cooking in a slow-cooker throughout the day. Do you inevitably lose these wonderful flavours by attempting to cook such dishes fast? Yet, there are recipes out there which claim you can make this classic in 15-20 minutes, with it tasting just as good. Usually, it requires an extensive list of ingredients, some of which are unusual and not exactly 'store-cupboard' staples, in order to ramp up the flavour otherwise achieved by slow cooking. With an extensive and unusual ingredients list, the cost of preparing these meals can soar. All to achieve dinner in 20 minutes, inevitably requiring perfect timing and lots of effort, which quite frankly can be stressful.
So instead of pushing for fast food in 20 minutes, should we be encouraging people to cook healthy dishes slowly and economically throughout the day using a slow-cooker? With a cheaper starting investment (a decent slow cooker retails at £25), slow cookers are great for making the most out of cheaper cuts or meat and budget ingredients. They require minimum amount of effort, as you are able to throw in all the ingredients, and the slow-cooker doing all the hard work. Everything can be prepped in the morning, or even the night before, and dinner will be ready when you get home. Plus, slow cookers are fantastic for cooking cheaper cuts of meat, such as brisket, shoulder and stewing meat, which can otherwise be unruly and tough. So really, what's not to love? Slow cooking is the best of both worlds, combining an economical cooking method with minimal effort to create flavourful and healthy dishes. Maybe this is the new healthy mid-week supper: slow, easy and economical. That's certainly my kind of cooking.
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