SALON TALKS

Cooking with Jamie Oliver is cheap, easy — and requires only one pan

We talked to Jamie Oliver about "One: Simple One-Pan Wonders" and real-world cooking

Published January 18, 2023 3:00PM (EST)

Jamie Oliver (Photo illustration by Salon/Paul Stuart/Getty Images)
Jamie Oliver (Photo illustration by Salon/Paul Stuart/Getty Images)

"People's hatred for cleanup is profound," says Jamie Oliver. The bestselling cookbook author and award-winning television host knows that sometimes the difference between home cooking and drive-through is as elemental as the number of dirty dishes involved. As in his previous "solution based" works like "Jamie's 15-Minute Meals" and "5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food," his new book (and accompanying series) "One: Simple One-Pan Wonders" is an inventive, eminently practical celebration of pared down, real-world cooking, from savory frying pan pastas to cozy desserts.

Oliver joined me recently on "Salon Talks" to talk about cooking when your time and budget are both limited, and his ongoing mission to empower families to have healthier options.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

This is your third project to come out in response to the pandemic, and this one was particularly written in response to the 2021 UK lockdown. Tell me about a little of the inspiration for this book.

Lockdown was an opportunity to really look at what people were buying most of the time, and use that information to arm me with the inspiration to write differently. I wanted to take away all the barriers to not cooking and ordering a takeaway instead. How can I make it easy for you to cook? 

"We never, ever have more than eight ingredients, eight or less."

There were a number of things that really made a massive difference. First of all, "One-Pan Wonders" really should have been called "the minimum washing up cookbook." People's hatred for cleanup is profound and it's big. Every time I mention it, you get people cheering, "Yeah, I hate it. Drives me up the wall." That's quite a powerful emotion that has nothing but everything to do with food. Then, there's people's hatred for long shopping lists. They want to cook something, but they've got to buy 20 things, and that's more common than you can imagine. In this book, if you open any page, you'll see there's pictures of every ingredient, so I'm really holding your hand and guiding you through the recipe. And we never, ever have more than eight ingredients, eight or less.

Then from a nutrition point of view, I want to make it an everyday cookbook. To do that, it can't just be full of indulgent and heavy meals. We've got beautiful, indulgent meals in there, but just the right percentage of them. We got loads of everyday healthy, delicious dishes. We celebrate meat, we celebrate fish, we've got veggie, we've got vegan, covering all the ranges from breakfast to dinner and everything in the middle. That's all taken into consideration before I've even written one recipe.

When it came to the recipes, I was really looking at the ingredients that you normally buy every week. I don't really even want you to go shopping to cook one of the recipes. I know that most people are buying chicken every week, so that's why there's a whole chapter dedicated to it. And if you look at things like the One-Pan Pastas, which is a really nice technique where you only need the one pan, most of that is very doable in eight to 10 minutes. It's for those people getting back from work, just about to order a takeaway. And look, even a cheap takeaway is quite expensive. I'm very conscious that I just have to make it easy for people. Then as you know, one of the most important things is testing the recipes so they actually work and deliver on the promise. We take that really seriously.

As someone who doesn't have a dishwasher, I want to thank you for writing this book because the pan thing really is an obstacle for a lot of us, especially when you're cooking for a family. What are some things that you learned along the way to make one pan cooking easier for all of us?

It is a beautiful world. Obviously, the conceit and the concept of cooking in one pan, washing up aside, is that whatever you are cooking is benefiting from other things that are around it in that environment. If you're cooking in a pan, that's different than a kind of casserole pan, which is different than a Dutch oven because they all hold moisture and hold heat in a different way. For me, that was the easy part, but it was just putting combinations.

It was creating the laws and the rules of the book, so it was easy for you, the reader, but really just picking things that would work in that vessel. We've got a whole bunch of roasting tray recipes that have got everything cooking together and flavoring each other. Some of the challenges are that you need to cut things or prep things so that they cook in the perfect time, otherwise you've got perfectly cooked meat and then raw veg, and that's not cool. There's ways of getting around that, of course. 

" A good, well-written cookbook should be able to connect with you on different levels from breakfast to dinner."

That aside, emotionally, I try and give you enough of what I know you want and then give you enough or the right amount of what you don't know you want yet. That's a real balance and that's a real gray area. I think having been publishing for 25 years, I must be getting it roughly right, otherwise I'd have been sacked years ago. I think a good well-written cookbook should be able to connect with you on different levels from breakfast to dinner.

There's a really humble recipe in the book, sort of driven by a reality of, I really want a cheese toasty, but I've got no bread, damn. I give you a recipe for a two minute bread that you can knock out in the pan and then you stuff it, and then you get that beautiful cheesy ooze and you can put your combinations. From a humble recipe like that, which is almost not a recipe, it's like student food, which we all love, to a one pan dish where I treat a pork belly, which is a much more affordable cut than some of the prime joints, like a porchetta from Italy. I cook this rolled pork belly rubbed with all these gorgeous things in this pan. As it's resting, we turn all the remnants and goodness from that pan into the most incredible risotto. There's loads of veg in it and it's a complete meal, but it's almost good enough to be a dinner party meal. It's got the wow effect.

From that cheese toasty to that dish and everything in the middle, I think the job of the author is to try and give you a little rainbow of useful recipes that hopefully will connect with you at different times in the day.

I've heard you refer to some of your more recent cookbooks as solution-based, which I appreciate as a home cook. The solution may be ingredients, it may be time, it may be equipment, and it may also be money. This book is very intentionally budget-friendly. I want to ask you about what you think of when developing these recipes. Obviously, you in the UK, we in the US, have been hit very hard recently economically.

It's a really good question. In the last recession I did a cookery book called "Save with Jamie" and "Money Saving Meals." The question of what is budget-friendly is completely subjective, isn't it? And probably not for me to say or most people to say. I meandered around what does that mean. Who justifies what budget-friendly means? I just thought, well, if it's half the price of a Big Mac meal, that's got to be nudging me in the right direction. Certainly in that book, that's what we intended to do. We wanted to make sure that there was a really nice percentage of the book that was in that sort of area. When you're cooking for four people, if it's comparable to an easy takeaway, then you're probably in the right direction.

We never expected everything that's happened in the last year with Ukraine and bits and pieces like that, where the prices have gone completely bonkers. When I'm writing my book, I genuinely, sincerely do try and look at health and nutrition. I try and look at choice. I try and represent veggie and vegan dishes in the right kind of proportions. We look at meat and meat reduction, so you'll see recipes in the book where we are helping you meat reduce. Because to think about vegan, veggie or meat eater is this whole binary approach to making people's food preferences like a club or a religion … I don't really like that bit, but I really like the idea of helping people go on a journey and improve and realize that meat reduction is really good on so many levels. Financially it's amazing. We can replace that meat with some incredibly nutrient dense veggies and legumes and stuff. But in a really clever way, a delicious way, and also a way that really echoes back to hundreds of years ago where that was normal practice. 

"So much was out of our control, but actually the one thing we could control was what we cooked."

If I just did a cookbook full of prime cuts of meat and filet steaks and foie gras and really exclusive ingredients, that would be inappropriate and slightly audacious. At the same time, what I try and do in a very small percentage over the years and quite strategically, is I start mentioning things like harissa or miso, which are little flavor bombs that have gone from being quite scarce and rare to ubiquitous around the country.

If you go to any American supermarket now, you can find miso pretty easily in different colors and forms, and that's quite typical in a lot of countries. I feel like part of my job is to mention those things. I just think one of the most joyful things about cooking is, if you've got your salmon steak, which is very common, or your chicken, you can go to any country in the world. We've got our preferences that we love and that we grew up with and God bless that.

I've just come from doing "Good Morning America" where we did a miso chicken with sweet potatoes and sesame seeds and spring onions. It's so delicious. The skin is crispy and the meat's falling off the bone, and that depth of umami and soy and the freshness of lime, oh. And I was giving it to the co-host, and you could tell those textures and flavors speak to you even if you've never been to Japan.

Your family was personally very affected by COVID. I want to know if that also changed how you cook for each other and how you care for each other. Your book is dedicated to your wife, your one.

COVID was pretty awful for everyone. [My wife] got it quite bad and still has long COVID now. We were also one of the first non-news broadcast to go primetime with bespoke COVID content. It took literally a month in Britain for unique content, which was tuned in to the moment and the scenario to come out. We were really, really early, as in day one. We went to air in 16 hours. I was out of nowhere, kind of self-commissioned a Monday to Friday primetime show that wasn't even commissioned a week before. 

I went from teaching recipes to principles and that was very interesting. We could then open up the recipe and really amplify the principles. Then throughout the week, I was using fractional bits of leftover stuff. You know when you've got stuff in the fridge and it's not quite enough for anything? That was inspiring the recipes I was making. I was using the freezer, and by day five things weren't looking as fresh as maybe you've seen them on my cookery shows before where they're perfect. I think maybe more importantly, because we are all vulnerable and it was those very early days and people were scared, so much was out of our control, the one thing we could control was what we cooked and cooked for the kids, cooking food that by its nature made you feel comforted.

The response from the public was amazing. Even globally, it was like, "Thank you for doing this," because people were tuning in and had the same problems. That was quite a unifying moment for me, actually. Very powerful. I did that for a month and then decided, well, didn't decide, the rest of the industry had caught up. It literally took a month for production to catch up in the UK and many other countries in the world. Then I started concentrating on my colleagues at work and making sure that we were all stable and happy.

You've been very outspoken in your career, particularly in the last year, about some of the things going on in your government. What are you focusing on now in terms of how we care for our kids? What would you like to see changed in your own country?

There's two ways you can answer that. What needs to be done, or what are we concentrating on now to get done? Because we are very slow globally, and certainly in the UK and the US, we're very, very slow to progress in protecting child health. How long have we been debating the laws around labeling and truth and transparency and where you would put the nutritional information? It wasn't that long ago when I did the ABC Primetime show "Food Revolution," where we outed pink slime, which the American government decided no one had to mention if it was less than 25% of the whole product. You've had permission from the government to lie. So, this is not in the best interest of truth, integrity, agriculture and certainly not in the best interest for parents, and most definitely not in the interest of kids. 

"You get the impression from the powers that be that it's an indulgence and not a right. I think it is a right."

When we outed that story, the response from the American public was very visceral. They never knew they didn't have the truth. I think even from labeling, we've still got a lot to do in the UK as well. It's not legislation to have to put on the front and color code it so that a busy working parent can decide. It doesn't mean they're not going to take something that's indulgent, it just means that they know. If they've got a trolley full of only reds and flashing reds, then that's probably worth thinking about when you go home that night and looking at some healthy little swaps. 

There's loads to be done. I think if I had a magic wand, [I'd be] making sure that school food for our students, especially the most vulnerable, was as good as it can be and available for free for the ones that really need it. I would love if every American child could leave at 16 knowing ten basic recipes to save their life, and know the basics of budgeting, and nutrition, and how to be a ninja shopper in their neighborhood. That feels not like a luxury, indulgent, middle-class kind of whim. To me, that's survival.  

If you look at what's challenging our young families right now in both of our countries, it's debt and health. The cost of food annually is still very expensive. Being better at that is going to really make a difference, and knowing how you can duck and dive and look after the people you love is really useful. So, I wish that could happen. But I think it still feels like fighting for truth, better food, fairer food.

You get the impression from the powers that be that it's an indulgence and not a right. I think it is a right. The food industry is very powerful and it wants to solve your solutions and charge you for it. There's a lot of work to be done. Ultimately, if you think about it, just keeping people cooking [is important,] but that is a rarity now. We're cooking less now than we did before COVID. Everyone thought that we were cooking more in COVID, and that is true, but we were locked in our houses, so we didn't have a choice. It was under duress. But seemingly now it's dropped off again.


By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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