REV (w/Rec): The Minimalist Cooks Dinner
- Baton Rouge Advocate: Thurs, Nov 1
Published on 11/1/01
'Minimalist' cook shares 'faster, more flexible and easier' recipes
Looking for an idea for a quick, delicious meal that didn't require a
trip to the grocery store, I spotted the latest cookbook from
award-winning author Mark Bittman among my stack of books to review.
"The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast
Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining" (Broadway Books, $26,
hardcover) seemed exactly what I wanted.
The book's 100 or so recipes represent about two years of Bittman's
popular New York Times weekly column, "The Minimalist." This is a
follow-up to "The Minimalist Cooks at Home," also based on the column.
Bittman writes that he develops recipes which are a little "faster,
more flexible and easier" while working in his "average suburban
kitchen with its average equipment."
Each recipe also includes a few cooking pointers, along with serving
and wine suggestions.
The 224-page book divides its recipes into seven chapters: Soups and
Stews; Pasta, Noodles and Pizza; Shellfish; Fish; Poultry; Meat; and
Salads and Side Dishes. It opens with a recipe for Vichyssoise with
Garlic and closes with one for Crisp Pan-Fried Noodle Cake. In
between are such recipes as Chicken-Mushroom "Cutlets" with Parmesan
and Pot Roast with Cranberries.
In keeping with its style of cooking, this is a no-frills cookbook.
In other words, there are no photographs, which might turn off
readers who want to see what a finished dish looks like before
tackling the recipe. But, the ease of Bittman's recipes offsets the
lack of photos.
This book is a good choice for both the novice cook and the more
experienced one with little time.
A recipe from the book that my family enjoyed follows.
Seared and steamed chicken breasts
Here's how to keep a boneless chicken breast moist while giving it a crust,
and without using a lot of fat. This technique relies on two properties of
the chicken breast that make it more like fish than like other meat. One, it
cooks quickly. And two, it contains a fair amount of moisture. This enables
you to start cooking the breasts with just a bit of fat over fairly high
heat to begin browning, then lower the heat and cover the pan, which not
only allows the meat to steam in its own juices but maintains the nicely
browned exterior (on one side, anyway) and -- a bonus that is certainly
worth mentioning --reduces spattering to a minimum.
2 tbls. extra-virgin olive oil, butter or a combination
4 plump boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 to 2 lbs.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine, chicken stock or water
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes (canned are fine; drain them first)
2 tbls. capers
2 tbls. chopped black olives, preferably imported
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Pour the oil into a 12-inch skillet, turn
the heat to medium-high, and heat for about 2 minutes. When the oil is hot,
season the chicken breasts well with salt and pepper and place them in the
skillet, smooth (skin) side down. Turn the heat to high and cook for about a
minute, until the chicken begins to brown. Turn the heat to medium and cover
Cook, undisturbed, until the chicken is firm and nearly cooked through, 6 to
8 minutes. Uncover the skillet (there may be a little spattering from the
moisture that has collected on the underside of the lid; removing the lid
quickly will minimize this) and transfer the chicken to a plate; put the
plate in the oven.
Over high heat, add the wine, stock or water and stir and scrape to release
any bits of chicken that have stuck to the bottom. When the liquid has
reduced by about half, add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for
about a minute. Add the capers, olives and all but 1 tablespoon of the
parsley and cook for 1 minute more, stirring occasionally. Return the
chicken to the sauce and turn once or twice. Sprinkle with the remaining 1
tablespoon parsley and serve.
Keys to success: The cooking time for all but the thickest chicken breasts
prepared this way is under 10 minutes; don't overcook them or the meat will
become tough. If you use mass-produced commercial chicken, the results will
be somewhat cottony. Free-range or kosher chickens are generally somewhat
With minimal effort:
Before adding the liquid in Step 3, sauté a bit of chopped onion, shallot,
mushroom or other vegetables in the pan; proceed as above, with or without
the tomatoes, capers and olives.
For the wine or stock, substitute cream.
Use chopped basil or a few thyme leaves in place of the parsley.
This simple technique will work perfectly well with most fish fillets or
steaks, from salmon to cod to striped bass. Cooking time for most cuts of
these fish will be just a little bit less than that for chicken breasts.
-- "The Minimalist Cooks Dinner"