Ingredients and equipment
Don’t be daunted by the idea of cooking for one – with Delia’s advice you will find that choosing the right ingredients and buying the best equipment is a doddle.
All the recipes featured are easily multiplied by two, three or even four. So if you are expecting company – or are cooking for a family – you won’t have to look elsewhere.
Shopping for one used to be far more difficult than it is today. At long last most supermarkets offer smaller pre-packed portions of meat and fish, and the new trend towards self-selection (that is, picking out however much you need of an item and paying by weight) is a godsend to those who only want small amounts. Of course it is even better to buy your requirements from the butcher, fishmonger or greengrocer: in that case you don’t have to put up with taking an ounce more or less than you need (as is the case with pre-packaged items). The only barrier here is the psychological one. Some people tell me it is a little embarrassing asking for very small quantities. Don’t let it be. After all, there are almost 8 million people who have to cook just for themselves – the shopkeepers couldn’t afford to lose all that custom! And don’t be afraid to ask the butcher or fishmonger to do the jobs he is skilled at – and are so difficult to do at home, like filleting and boning.
If you’re just cooking for yourself and can only shop once a week, then it does help to plan ahead. I say this as one of the world’s worst planners, but cooking and shopping for the recipes in this book have made me realise the value of planning. For instance, if you have decided on a recipe that calls for half an aubergine, then why not consider another recipe that also calls for half an aubergine, shop for that as well and have it later in the week?
Because you can save a great deal of time by cooking certain things in double quantity (to make two meals), I have indicated some recipes that can be prepared in tandem as it were – and these I have called ‘Mixed Doubles’. The whole concept, however, can only work to your advantage if you remember to shop for both recipes at the same time.
The dilemma we have to confront here is, on the one hand, what is the ideal and, on the other hand, how much of that ideal can be reconciled with reality? Ideally, we should shop every day to ensure absolute freshness; in reality, this is simply not possible for most people. You cannot, for example, buy a quarter of a green pepper, yet that is what is called for in some recipes. So for one person, storing is inevitable. I have found that it is quite possible to store most fresh vegetables in the fridge, in tied polythene bags with a few holes punched in them, for up to five days. Obviously all fruit and vegetables need to be purchased in peak condition: if they’re bruised or shrivelled to start with they won’t even keep for a day.
The first problem I had to face was how to get round the economic absurdity of heating up a large amount of oven space to cook a single portion, without confining everything to the grill or frying-pan. Microwave was not the answer because it cannot entirely replace the combination of oven, hob and grill (and I doubted whether many people on their own would be the owners of two ovens!).
The ideal oven for one – if you are contemplating buying one – is the double oven, which comprises a smaller oven for everyday cooking, and a larger one which could be used when entertaining. However, there is an excellent alternative for the person living alone, and this is the table-top oven, some of which have a grill and a hob as well.
Hobs and grills
One of the challenges of trying to avoid using costly oven space was in testing out the full potential and versatility of the hob and grill. In fact, a surprising number of dishes can be cooked under the grill, in foil or otherwise. The crucial part of this exercise is getting the food the correct distance from the heat, so it is worth checking before you start that your grill pan or rack can be set the required distance from the grill.
The recurring problem with cooking small amounts on top of the stove is simmering. The last thing you want is the frustration of not being able to get your liquid down to the gentle simmer that is essential for long cooking. A gentle simmer I would define as a few small bubbles steadily breaking through the surface of the liquid you are cooking. If this is not possible with your hob, then I suggest you invest in a metal heat diffuser: place this over the flame or radiant ring when you want to simmer gently, place the saucepan or casserole on top of that, and all should be well.
Pots and pans
I have written extensively elsewhere about the absolute necessity of using the right equipment for cooking. I don’t pretend that it can all be obtained at once, but someone who cares about food will take the trouble to build up a stock of essential equipment gradually. And the one thing that my thirty-odd years of cookery has taught me (to my cost) is that good, solid equipment – though initially more expensive – works out far cheaper in the long run.
All these recipes can actually be followed with a minimum amount of equipment, as I have taken care to use more or less the same size for everything. If you intend to do a lot of cooking for one, then the items below are the perfect choice:
One 5½ inch (14 cm) saucepan
One 7 inch (18 cm) medium saucepan
One 7 inch (18 cm) round flameproof casserole
One heavy-based 7 inch (18 cm) (base measurement) frying pan
One 9 inch (23 cm) oval flameproof gratin dish
One round flameproof gratin dish with a base measurement of 6 inches (15 cm)
Three ovenproof soufflé or ramekin dishes – one 3 inch (7.5 cm) base measurement, one 4 inch (10 cm) base measurement, and the other 5 inch (13 cm) base measurement.
I have come to the conclusion that the very best make of saucepan, casserole and frying-pan for one on offer at present is SKK, which are made in Germany. They are in the top price bracket but are a sound investment.
Care of equipment
New pots and pans need to be seasoned before use, so always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, if you’re using enamelled cast-ironware, remember not to overheat it – for instance, after browning meat over a high heat, turn it down immediately.
Sharp knives are part of the general cooking equipment. The knives I recommend are Swiss-made by a firm called Victorinox. Another item called for in some of these recipes is a pestle and mortar; although you can improvise with a pudding basin and the end of a rolling pin, a pestle and mortar will make life very much easier. The other piece of equipment that comes into this category is some kind of blender, liquidiser or food processor (though, with the small quantities involved in the recipes, the latter is rather an indulgence). A cheese grater and potato peeler are also invaluable.
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