Five Secrets to Five-Ingredient Cooking
Over the years, I have developed a kitchen philosophy that delivers delicious, creative, healthy food with as little fuss as possible. All of the recipes here use only five ingredients (not counting salt, pepper, and cooking oil), and they all look and taste far more complex than the simple sum of their parts. These are dishes that are special enough for company and comforting enough for the family. Here are five principles that underpin the notion of beautifully simple, very delicious five-ingredient cooking.
Use One Ingredient Several Ways
An ingredient can anchor a dish in more than one preparation. For example, you could sauté asparagus, toss it with pasta, and top the dish with boiled asparagus peelings that resemble a kind of faux fettuccine. Here we have exploited scallions, which are delicious both cooked and raw: Their natural sugars caramelize when sautéed or stir-fried, a little goes a long way when pureed raw into a sauce, and slivers bring fresh oniony crunch as a garnish.
Cook It Low and Slow, Hands-Free
Let the oven magically transform raw ingredients into dishes with deep flavors and arresting textures while you tend to other things. Long, slow cooking provides steady moisture at a low temperature, which softens protein and allows flavors to develop differently than a flash in a hot pan.
Keep It All In One Pan
It's hard to imagine that an upscale dish with multiple components can be prepared in one pan. The wonderful steak recipe here uses the technique of "step cooking"–first stir-frying vegetables in a pan, and then separately cooking the protein in the same pan, accentuating all the accumulating flavors. Since the pan is already hot, the steak cooks in a jiffy. There is only one pan to clean, and the two-step dance gives the cook a real sense of ease and simplicity.
Use An Outlier Ingredient
Adding one unexpected ingredient to a simple dish can enhance the flavor exponentially. When working with limited time and only a handful of ingredients, the goal is to make each one meaningful and resonant. Powerhouse ingredients–wasabi peas, za'atar, fish sauce, truffle oil, or Calabrian chiles–are wonderful "discovery foods" that add layers of complexity to more familiar dishes. This outlier principle will prompt you to have fun seeking out new sources of big flavor.
Blast It Fast
This might be my favorite principle. Take a few compatible ingredients, spread them on a pan, and time them so they blast away in a superhot oven to optimal flavor. Dinner comes together in a flash with unexpectedly delicious results. High-heat oven cooking leaves you time, and space, for an extra flourish atop the stove, like making a sauce. In the recipe here, a trio of shrimp, shiitakes, and Broccolini soars under a glaze of foaming chive butter sauce that you make in just a couple of minutes. It's dramatic and resembles something you'd order in an upscale restaurant.