The Myth of the 30-Minute Meal

Chef_abbas_smallerHere, in Italy, I have developed the habit of cooking dinner almost every day (I usually eat the leftovers for lunch the next day). I wake up much earlier in the morning than I used to in New York, and am too tired to do much by about 6 in the evening. At that point, I find it relaxing to cook (I used to watch TV in New York, but don’t have one here, only religiously watching Stewart and Colbert iTunes downloads on my computer). I make it a point not to rush around the kitchen, instead taking my time to chop and peel things, talking to my wife or whoever else is around, finding stuff to post on 3QD while the onions are browning, etc. (One thing I really hate is when cooks try to show their expertise by chopping, say, an onion with an incredibly recklessly fast rat-a-tat-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta motion on the cutting board–as if the 19 seconds they just saved by endangering their fingers really makes any dent in the total time needed to cook the meal! It’s just a silly form of showing off, best suited to suburban Hibachi restaurants where the cooking at one’s table is more of a circus-act than a kind of craftsmanship, and where the children have been brought more for the entertainment than the food. All cutting, peeling, chopping, mincing, grating, etc. should be done calmly and slowly, and with the right knife–thanks, once again, for the Global, Asad–it is a meditative and enjoyable exercise.) It takes me anywhere from 90 to 150 minutes to prepare a multi-course meal, and so I completely agree with Ms. Shapiro here. It is simply not possible to cook well in 30 minutes (and certainly would not be enjoyable; adding to, rather than subtracting from, the day’s stress). Many things I make have cooking times longer than that, and prep and cleanup (which I do while I am cooking, so that after the meal only the plates we ate in need washing) take long too. It’s nice to have freshly cooked food every day. Try it.

Anyhow, here’s Laura Shapiro in Slate:

080423_food_fastfoodFantasy has always played a big part in beat-the-clock cookbooks; in fact, the category relies on it, as Ramsay’s book makes clear. Despite the shopping lists, the step-by-step directions, the time-saving tips, and the authors who insist that this is exactly how they cook at home, there’s little that reflects the real world in such books. Like those gigantic, glossy tomes with titles like My Kitchen in the Wine Country or Tuscany at Table, the quick-cook books are wish books. They’re cheaper, friendlier, and far more portable than their $75 siblings, but they’re wish books all the same. Open a quick-cook book and you’re transported—not to some Provencal dreamscape but to your own kitchen. Why, that’s you at the counter, cheerfully putting together a charming meal for the family while your children set the table. You can practically see them storing up those all-important food memories that will accompany them through life like a St. Christopher medal.

If you’re an ordinary, sometimes bumbling home cook, it’s hard to resist a book that promises to impose factorylike precision on a chore that is by nature messy and unpredictable. Hence the popularity of stopwatch cuisine, which used to be known as “practical” or “simple” cookery and is now designated by sheer speed: The 60-Minute Gourmet, 30-Minute Meals, 29-Minute Meals, 20-Minute Menus, Fresh 15-Minute Meals, 10-Minute Cuisine, Rocco’s 5-Minute Flavor, The Last-Minute Cookbook. How do they do it?

More here.