One-pot meals.

From T., 26 December 2009, One pot meals suitable for company?

Q: I’m having a New Year’s party. I would like to prepare something to eat in advance, since I’ll be working that day. Party starts at 8:30 so I’m not serving dinner, but rather would like people to have something to eat if they didn’t have a full dinner or are simply hungry! I was thinking of a stew of some kind and maybe rice. My oven is broken so I can’t bake. Would love a relatively simple suggestion that I can make the night before. Also – do you have tips for making perfect rice, including which variety to choose? I don’t make rice very much and results vary. Would hate to make a big pot of crappy rice. On the other hand, I could make pasta or something else, too. Would love to hear what you suggest! Another issue – I only have one big pot….

A: Happy Boxing Day! Thanks for your question.

It’s so nice of you to set up your guests with a light meal, especially on New Year’s Eve, when people will be drinking. One-pot meals are a great idea, and, by their nature, they often improve with reheating. The one catch: you can’t put rice or most other starches in a one-pot dish and expect them to hold up. As they sit, they will absorb the liquid and become mushy. They also will release starch into the pot and thicken up the stew or braise possibly more than you would like. Waxy (red) potatoes are the exception. So if you’re going to make a stew or a similar one-pot meal to serve over rice or pasta, cook the rice/pasta separately. You even can prepare those in advance if necessary – rice reheats well, and pasta less so – and combine them at the end.

A note about the beans: you will note I recommend cooking in salted water. Harold McGee has debunked the “salt makes beans tough” myth, and salting the cooking water ensures that beans are not bland and starchy but well-flavored. So salt away – about 2 tbsp salt per 2 quarts water (about 5%) should do it. Just be sure not to let the water boil when you’re cooking beans, but maintain a simmer – this will keep the skins from splitting and prevent your beans from becoming waterlogged.

In my experience, long-grained white rice requires about 1.5 times the water per unit of rice – bring the water to a boil in a pot, add the rice, cover the pot tightly with the lid, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Do not remove the lid for 12-13 minutes. Then take the pot off the heat, and, without removing the lid, allow the rice to sit for another five minutes. Remove the lid, and fluff the rice with a fork.

A safety note about rice: cooked and improperly cooled rice is the medium of choice for Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that produces a noxious toxin. B. cereus proliferates when cereals such as rice are held in warm, moist conditions above 5C/40F and under 60C/140F for long periods of time, and produces a toxin that causes an unpleasant illness. To avoid B. cereus illness, if you prepare rice in advance, cool it promptly – within 1-2 hours of cooking – and reheat thoroughly, until the interior temperature is well above 140F for at least 5 minutes. If you cook rice for service, and cannot hold it above 60C/140F, don’t leave it out longer than a couple of hours.

I’m including several recipes, and have included a vegetarian alternative in case you have a number of vegetarian guests and want to be sure everyone can partake. I’m not sure how many people you want to feed, so amounts provided will feed about 10, but not generously – if you want to serve more people, you can double the recipes.

Chicken stew

I’m providing two versions of this, because you may want to spice it up more or less. The first version features Mediterranean flavors; the spicy version features Mexican tastes. Choose the one that suits your mood.

Via the Mediterranean

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs (breasts are acceptable also), or meat from bone-in meat to equal that amount, 1″ dice
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
2 medium carrots, diced 1/4″
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 c dry white wine
2 c chicken stock (canned/boxed low sodium broth is fine)
2 28 ounce cans tomatoes
4-6 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
olive oil
2 cans cannellini (or other large white) bean, rinsed well, or 1/3 lb dried cannellini or flageolet, cooked in salted water until tender, drained
large handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Place a large, deep pan with a lid (like a dutch oven) over medium high heat. Add about 1 tbsp olive oil when hot, and then add the chicken, in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside. Without wiping out the pan, add the onion and reduce the heat to medium low; sweat until translucent, add the garlic and carrots, and continue to cook, stirring, until just tender. Add the fennel and sauté a minute until fragrant.

Add the white wine and stir up the fond (the brown bits). Reduce by about half and add the stock, tomatoes, and herbs. Bring to a simmer and return the chicken and any juices to the pot. Simmer and do not boil until the chicken is tender. Add the beans. Simmer until the beans are cooked through and the cooking liquid has reduced slightly. Discard the thyme branches and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve alone or with steamed rice, garnished with the parsley.

Via Mexico

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs (breasts are acceptable also), or meat from bone-in meat to equal that amount, 1″ dice
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tbsp each cumin seeds and coriander seeds, or 1 1/2 tsp each ground
1 tbsp dried Mexican oregano
1 each ancho, guajillo, pasilla, New Mexico, chipotle chile (or any combination), or 2 tbsp ground chile
1/2 c dry white wine
2 c chicken stock (canned/boxed low sodium broth is fine)
2 28 ounce cans tomatoes
canola oil
2 bay leaves
2 cans black beans, rinsed well, or 1/3 lb dried black beans, cooked in salted water until tender, drained
juice of 2 limes
additional limes, sliced into eighths
large handful cilantro, chopped
several scallions, green only, sliced into thin rings
salt and pepper to taste

If using whole chiles, toast in a dry pan until just fragrant and then grind (in a spice grinder) to a powder.

Place a large, deep pan with a lid (like a dutch oven) over medium high heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil when hot, and then add the chicken, in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside. Without wiping out the pan, add the onion and reduce the heat to medium low; sauté until translucent, add the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring, until just tender. Add the cumin, coriander, and chiles, and sauté a minute until fragrant.

Add the white wine and stir up the fond (the brown bits). Reduce by about half and add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaves, and oregano. Bring to a simmer and return the chicken and any juices to the pot. Simmer and do not boil until the chicken is tender. Add the beans. Simmer until the beans are cooked through and the cooking liquid has reduced slightly. Discard the bay leaves. Add the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve alone or with steamed rice, garnished with the cilantro.

Black bean stew

1 1/2 lb dry black beans
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tbsp each cumin seeds and coriander seeds, or 1 1/2 tsp each ground
1 tbsp dried Mexican oregano
1 each ancho, guajillo, pasilla, New Mexico, chipotle chile (or any combination), or 2 tbsp ground chile
1/2 c dry white wine
2 28 ounce cans tomatoes
canola oil
2 bay leaves
juice of 2 limes
additional limes, sliced into eighths
large handful cilantro, chopped
sour cream
grated asadero cheese or another semi-hard Mexican cheese
salt and pepper to taste

If you have time, soak the beans for 8 hours (overnight) or so before cooking to speed the cooking process to about an hour.

If using whole chiles, toast in a dry pan until just fragrant and then grind (in a spice grinder) to a powder.

Cook the beans in simmering salted water with a bay leaf and a few whole coriander seeds and peppercorns in a cheesecloth or tea ball until tender. Drain and remove the bay leaf and cheesecloth/tea ball.

Place a large, deep pan with a lid (like a dutch oven) over medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil when hot, and add the onion; reduce the heat to medium low; sauté until translucent, add the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring, until just tender. Add the cumin, coriander, and chiles, and sauté a minute until fragrant.

Add the white wine and stir up the fond (the brown bits). Reduce by about half and add the cooked beans, tomatoes, bay leaves, and oregano. Bring to a simmer and simmer until the beans are partly falling apart, thickening the cooking liquid. Discard the bay leaves. Add the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with steamed rice, garnished with the cilantro, scallions, sour cream, and cheese.

2 thoughts on “One-pot meals.

  1. Pingback: One pot cooking for a crowd. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. "T" says:

    Wendy!

    You are awesome. Thank you so much for the recipes and all the info. I may start from the top and try the first one. Sounds delish. Thanks for telling me about the rice bacteria issue! Very good to know. I will probably make the rice that evening to avoid any problems. Maybe in two batches. That would also solve my only-one-big pot problem. Luckily I may be inheriting some dishes soon, so I will be prepared next time around.

    Thanks again!
    T

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