The Minimalist Cooks Dinner by Mark Bittman

212 pages; No photography

Broadway Books, 2001

Reviewed by Sandy Dine for Good Cooking
November, 2001
The Minimalist Cooks Dinner

I think we are all attracted to a cookbook that will help us find recipes that are quick and easy yet innovative and unusual. This book is geared to weeknight dinners and casual entertaining. Mark Bittman has a large following after the publication of his book "How to Cook Everything" and I think his followers will enjoy this new one, which is good for busy and working people.

Some of the recipes have an Asian flavor, which is healthy, and requires a minimum of ingredients. For example, "Steamed Chicken Breasts with Scallion-Ginger Sauce". His roast chicken was my favorite-"Fastest Roast Chicken". Take one small chicken (3-4 lbs.), salt and pepper and roast at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes in a hot skillet. I made it and it was delicious.

Good Cooking found the recipes easy to follow. Most ingredients as far as seasonings, onions, garlic, etcetera would be in most home kitchens and there aren't any exotic ingredients that you would have a hard time finding in most markets. We just wish the book had pictures!

Fastest Roast Chicken

(The only picture in the book was the Roast Chicken on the back cover!)

Roast chicken is one of the most basic dishes of home cooking, but there are a couple of challenges: You need high heat to brown the skin, but ultra-high heat may burn it. You need to cook the legs through before the more delicate breast dries out. And, if you're interested in minimalist cooking, you must accomplish these things without a lot of fuss, such as turning the chicken over three times, searing it on top of the stove before roasting, or constantly adjusting the oven temperature. Plus, you want to do it all as fast as possible. Well, here it is: fast, nearly foolproof roast chicken.

1 whole chicken (3 to 4pounds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Five minutes after turning on the oven, place a cast-iron or other heavy, ovenproof skillet on a rack set low in the oven. (Alternatively, put the skillet over high heat about 3 minutes before the oven is hot.) Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

2. When the oven is hot, about 10 minutes later, carefully place the chicken, breast side up, in the hot skillet. Roast, undisturbed, for 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the meaty part of the thigh registers 155 F. Remove from the oven, let rest for a minute or two, then carve and serve.

Keys To Success

The key is to start the chicken in a hot skillet-cast iron is best-and put it in a very hot oven. Preheating the pan gets the bottom of the bird cooking first and fastest. And, quite fortuitously, that's the part-the meaty thigh-that takes the longest to cook.

You can start preheating the skillet on top of the stove if you prefer that to the oven, and it has one advantage: You can get the pan blazing hot, and it's marginally easier to put the chicken into it. But be aware that putting a chicken in a hot skillet will produce volumes of smoke almost instantly-you'll want to get that skillet into the oven right away.

To make a quick gravy while the chicken is resting, pour out most of the fat, put the skillet over high heat, and add about a cup of water, wine, or stock. Cook, stirring and scraping, until just about 1/2 cup liquid is left. Season with salt and pepper and, if you're feeling extravagant, a tablespoon or two of butter.

Rub the chicken with olive oil and/or any herbs you like about halfway through the cookingespecially good is a bit of tarragon or a mixture of chopped rosemary and garlic.