Meals in 30 Minutes #1 : Jamie Oliver is economical with the truth, I am not economical with Rum

A few weeks ago I took a random recipe from Jamie Oliver’s recipe book, 30 Minute Meals and tried cooking it his allotted time. My working theory was simple: Unless you're a professional chef in a professional kitchen, cooking these in 30 minutes is basically impossible.   I like a challenge, and the measures of success for these with these recipes be : 

  1. Can I cook the recipe in the allotted time
  2. Can i produce something edible and non-deadly for my girlfriend and I
  3. Will my kitchen still look like a kitchen and not a bombsite by the time I’ve finished

My mission is simple – to find the recipe that scores most strongly across these 3 points. My first attempt was with selected by opening the book at a random page and going with it : was his Killer Jerk Chicken served with rice and beans, chopped salad and chargrilled corn, SURELY, with a little planning and forethought, I could do this, the man says so on the front of his book afterall.

Recipe

The recipe itself is pretty straightforward – you need to prepare your chicken, make the jerk sauce, create a salad and sort your rice. Game on with

  • Chicken : Chicken thighs, honey, rosemary and coriander
  • Sauce : Spring onions, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, nutmeg, all spice, golden rum, white wine vinegar, honey, a chilli and 4 cloves of garlic
  • Salad : Pepper, Chicory, Lettuce, Lime, red onion, coriander and cress. Yogurt with lime and coriander mixed through to dress
  • Rice : Long grain rice, stock, cinnamon stick, spring onions, black beans
  • Greens : Instead of corn, boiled to serve

Prep

[First 5 minutes] I substituted chicken thighs for breast – they have more flavour and are less dry. I skin and chopped the chicken, marinate it in honey, rosemary and coriander. I also added a dash of olive oil and left to one side while I prepared the sauce. Mood = Quietly Confident. Super-fast chopping is a bonus skill here.

[5 to 15 Minutes] The recipe says the jerk sauce is made basically by mixing all the ingredients listed above in a blender, which is more or less the instructions you get. In reality, everything needs washed and chopped, your garlic needs peeled and you need to measure out your liquids. Also, factor in washing time for keeping your hands clean, particularly after chopping chillis. Note to self – do NOT go and pee without washing your hands first. Mood =: Cautious. At this point all I’ve got are a pile of chopped herbs and a bottle of rum. That’s more of a cocktail than a sauce.

[15 – 20 mins]  I moved onto the salad prep – chopping and dumping all my leaves into a large serving bowl. This was the natural thing to do – I’d been chopping herbs and spring onions, so it made sense to do them all at once. Game on for the rice too – I didn’t bother measuring it out and inevitably did enough for 15 people. I got the stock and cinnamon ready to go, washed and chopped the spring onions and threw them into the pot, ready to go. Mood : hands in the air - why do I always end up with too much rice?

 [20 – 30 minutes] Time to fix the jerk sauce - I put all the ingredients in the blender and forget to close the blenders cover as I am working at pace. This sprays jerk sauce on the wall. Taste the the Jerk Sauce (not from the wall)  - I’d been too liberal with the rum (obviously) and had to add more honey as I’d slipped on the white wine vinegar too. Mood : I’m learning – jerk sauce does not equal Rum with some other stuff tossed in

The total prep time for the above was 30 - 35 minutes, meaning that I’d already blown my time limit before I’d even started cooking. My girlfriend, was available for a quick chat, so I spoke to her about the seemingly impossible nature of the meals in 30 minutes by Jamie. I was demoralised that I’d fallen at the first hurdle. Damn you, Mr Oliver and your impossible meals. She challenged me to prove that one could be done – and so the beginning of this quest.

Cook

Cooking the meal itself is actually pretty easy, and the instructions the following is all you really need to do :

  • Pan fry the chicken for 5 minutes before dumping it in an oven dish and pouring the sauce over it for roasting for 10 – 15 minutes. Nothing too fancy there.
  • Similarly, the rice is straightforward, 12 minutes boiling in stock for long grain rice and all you need to do is keep an eye on it. It can even be kept warm easily by boiling, draining and storing in the pot with a lid on it.
  • As for the salad, as it was mostly chopped, it was a simple case of adding the dressing and stirring some coriander and lime through the yogurt and getting it ready to serve
  • Finally, I put some broccoli on to boil 3 mins before the chicken was due to be ready, again, very straightforward

All in all, the cooking time is less than the 30 minutes. At least he got that bit right. The bast*rd.

Serve

Go for a “help yourself” approach with the salad, greens, rice and chicken. It saves time and ensure you keep the jerk sauce in a bowl to pour over the chicken and rice. It’s delicious and you may as well enjoy the cause of most of the mess.

Results

  1. Total Time : 55 minutes. Double the stated time by Mr. Jamie O. Doing something quickly, does not make it easy, or indeed quick it would seem. Rating : Challenging, but not impossible 5/10
  2. Edible and Non Deadly: Cutting corners (e.g. not peeling the garlic) will make the quality of the meal worse. You’re far better off taking a bit more time to properly prepare the food and make sure it tastes good. Chicken was delicious and the (Rum) Jerk Sauce was nice too, but that may have been because it tasted more like chicken with rum than anything else. Rating : Rum is good, but add more honey : 6/10
  3. Kitchen Devastation : Nightmare. I had jerk sauce on the wall, had to use 2 pots, a large bowl, grill pan, an oven dish, 2 chopping boards and 3 knives. Rating : Bombsite : 2/10

Overall

13 / 30 minutes marks : You may well be able to do this meal in 30 minutes, but in all likelihood your kitchen will not look like an actual kitchen by the time your finished and you'll be eating bits of Garlic skin with a risk of not actually having cooked your chicken properly. If you are going to do this recipe, allow an hour to cook it - this will make the cooking more enjoyable allow the chicken time to marinade and reduce the likelihood of you eating raw chicken.

Delicious meal, messy kitchen and well outside 30 minutes. Some things never change. Oh and Jack Sparrow would have been proud.

A delicious and varied meal

A delicious and varied meal

Mess. Mess. Mess.

Mess. Mess. Mess.


The Recipe Ingredients

Chilean Duck

While on a recent trip to South America, I had the fortune of staying in a superb hostel called The Magic House. Lucie and I stumbled across it by using the hostelworld website and it was a great place to stay. The hostel was run by a couple - 5 foot tall Tanya, the first firewoman in Valpariso, and her partner Victor. They were very friendly and Tanya spoke the better English of the two. On one of the nights there, Victor arrived back with what appeared to be a bird of some sort. Through a combination of sign language and mime, I managed to work out 3 things : it was a duck, victor had never cooked a duck before and Tanya was highly sceptical of him being able to do so.

Lucie suggested I get involved and give them a hand - which I was more than happy to do so - and so we were set for the following evening, a transatlantic cooking lesson for our hosts.

Recipe

Roast duck, roast potatoes, garlic mushrooms, greens and a salad. Serves 4.

Prep

Victor and I started by removing the packing and having a look at the bird. I had guessed it would be around 2.5hrs cooking time based on my previous experiences with chicken of a similar size, but I'd never actually cooked a whole duck before, so this would be a bit of an experiment. Of course, a bit of flexibility is always needed when cooking. To prepare the bird, we did the following :

  • Boil water and use pour over the ducks skin ; this tightens it
  • Salt, pepper and paprika the skin, piercing the skin and meat at several points to allow seasoning to permeate through
  • Oil (or some sort of fat) on the base of an oven dish
  • Rub the oil and seasoning in
  • Peel and chop an onion, stuff inside the bird

That was pretty much it, I kept it simple, but Victor seemed impressed. Once we'd done that, Victor immediately opened a beer, as if to celebrate the hard work, though it had taken less than 10 minutes. I tried to explain, again in a combination of sign language and very broken spanish, we'd more to do. He didn't seem to mind - the hard bit was done, it was beer o'clock for Victor, and by proxy, Lucie and I.

Having pre-heated the oven to 200c, we covered the duck in tinfoil and set the timer for 1hr 40. This, I explained, would be plenty of time for me to come out and take care of the potatoes to go with it. Having peeled and washed them already, all we had to do was boil and roast them. It was time for Victor to put his feet up

Next up though for the prep was the salad and Garlic mushrooms. Garlic mushrooms are dead easy, you either buy button mushrooms or roughly chop in half larger ones and fry in a bit of oil or butter with some finely chopped garlic. Takes a total of 5 mins and they taste delicious, so that was next on my to do list - chop some mushrooms and garlic.

Once done, I moved on to the salad and greens. As we were cooking for what we thought was 4 people, I had to add in salad and greens. A simple salad and boiled green veg works well with duck as it is quite a rich meat and comes with plenty of fat. A simple green salad of mixed leaves was made up in a large bowl for people to help themselves. For the dressing, a splash of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt an pepper. Make up separately for people to add themselves.

Finally, as the duck is just about ready, boil the greens. This should be the last thing you do - greens should be freshly served so as to retain their flavour. We used broccoli, but green beans, kale or mange tout work equally as well.

Cook

General timing for the cooking was as follows :

  • 0 - 1hr 40mins : Cook the duck, turn after 1 hr
  • 1hr 40 - 1hr 50 : Boil the potatoes, return the duck to original position
  • 1hr 50 : Put the potatoes in with the duck for roasting
  • 2hrs : Prepare Salad and dressing
  • 2hrs 25 : Boil greens and place in large bowl to serve
  • 2hrs 30 : Ready

Serve

With meals like this, there are 2 things to remember : someone has to carve the bird and it's best if you let everyone else serve themselves the vegetables, salad and mushrooms. Serving yourself is a great way to feel involved in the meal and has as tendency to make the occasion less formal as people have to stand up and sort their own food and generally get stuck in. It also takes the attention from who ever is carving.

When splitting up the meat, the main thing to remember with a duck is that there is less meat on it than you think. We divided it up as follows : 

  • 1 breast is a good sized portion
  • 1 leg is a slightly smaller portion
  • 1/2 of one thigh for each person
  • The smaller bits on the belly are divided up equally, probably mainly to those who have the legs

Along with a handful of potatoes, greens and salad with the mushrooms for those who want them, you've got a good hearty meal. Our lovely hosts provided us with a bottle of Chilean wine to share and Victor delighted in explaining to everyone that we were eating duck by saying "Quack Quack" at every opportunity. It was a good meal with some great company.

 

Thoughts

  • Ease : Cooking dinner for 4 does not have to be difficult or time consuming, just take 5 mins to work out your timings at the start and when you need to have things in the oven by. Cooking a duck is actually great as once in the oven,, there is very little you have to do with the bird, save turning it
  • Community : Language differences do not matter - in fact, cooking was a great way to break down some of the barriers in communication. Eating is a very communal thing to do and there is no reason that cooking cannot be as well. I was showing Victor what to do by literally showing him, so he could do it again for him and Tanya. Sure, we had to rely on Google Translate for a couple of things, but these were mainly around timing
  • Serve yourself : This is genuinely one of the best ways for breaking the tension at a table as it ecnourages everyone to get involved in handling and distributing the food. This means people have to be considerate of the amounts they are taking and also work with and around others to get it on each others plates. It also makes your job, as the chef / carver easier as you don't have to worry about presentation of the food and can focus on getting the flavours right

 

This is my first post on cooking and while I've written on Philosophy before, I've never even tried to write out a recipe or talk about the what and the how that goes with cooking. If there was one thing I took away from this experience hoewever it would be that you dont need to be a master chef, have superb skills in the kitchen or even speak the same language as someone to prepare a varied meal. All you need to do is plan your timings, rely on a mixture of hand gestures to explain what needs to be done and recognise that when your host puts a beer in your hand, the best thing to do is say cheers, and drink it with him.

Vino