We tried 3 recipes from a new cookbook championing shortcuts – this is what happened
Lockdown cooking getting you down? We put three recipes to the test, each promising a shortcut to flavour
COOKING every night of the week is a demanding old business, not least in the midst of a pandemic. What to have for dinner is one of the few things still in our control, and even that has become a chore in its relentless everydayness.
Trained chef, recipe writer and food stylist Rosie Reynolds is hoping to zhuzh things up for us though, with new cookbook, The Shortcut Cook.
It's “all about using shortcuts and creative solutions to get the best food – whipped up quickly, in the best way possible – for your family”, she writes. Corners will be cut, but in ways designed to maximise flavour and minimise stress, which couldn't be more timely.
We picked three recipes from the book and gave them a go…
:: Hannah Stephenson tested: shrimp burgers
Who doesn't love a burger? I usually go for mouth-watering beef quarter pounders oozing with cheese, but when Rosie Reynolds suggested an easy shrimp burger as a twist on our favourite fast food, with claims it would only take 16 minutes to make and cook, what's not to like?
It's not a budget meal – four burgers need a lot of shrimps (or rather, raw prawns), a total of 600g which is one very large bag, but there's very little else involved apart from chilli, coriander and lime.
Blitzing half the prawns in a mixer took seconds, at which point I ended up with a gloopy paste – the binding to hold the burgers together. Although Reynolds advises you to pulse the other half of the prawns a couple of times so they are roughly chopped, I used scissors to ensure they were still recognisable, rather than risking them turning to mush in the blender.
Then I threw the whole lot together in a large bowl, adding all the other ingredients – it literally took 10 minutes. They're virtually impossible to shape as they are so gloopy, so I just spooned big dollops of the mixture into hot oil and flattened them down with a fish slice to make them into patty shapes. They took longer to cook than expected, maybe because they were quite thick and I wanted to make sure the centres were done, so I cooked them for about five minutes on each side.
Making the Sriracha mayo, peeling and slicing the avocado and toasting the buns also takes a few minutes – so start to finish around 25 minutes for the whole meal – and although they were delicious, I felt you could easily have the burgers, which were quite dense, without the buns.
:: Ella Walker tested: Asian chicken noodle soup
I'm all for swift one-pot meals, but was a little sceptical at the prospect of this one. Just the words ‘chicken soup' conjure up a sense of deep nourishment, hours spent at the stove, all love and marrow infused in a bowl. A low-effort 40 minutes couldn't achieve that, surely? I was proved wrong.
A few minutes meditatively spent sharpening a chunk of ginger into thin matchsticks and slicing garlic into slivers, was followed by the crackling frazzle of chicken thigh skin crisping up in a pan. Reynolds says to use a frying pan, but none of mine are deep enough to hold any liquid, so I opted for a higher-sided saucepan. In retrospect, I should have seared the chicken for longer in the sesame oil; they weren't quite golden enough and steamed more than they should have done.
In went a jug of water, then Chinese rice vinegar and light soy sauce – which, combined with the chicken poaching liquor, make the broth. The chicken thighs turned out a little tough (maybe I over-simmered them?), but the noodles were suitably slurp-able. My main issue was the pak choi – it looks great but is a nightmare to eat whole from the bowl.
Warming, simple, wholesome, there will be a next time.
:: Noreen Barr tested: sweet potato ravioli
‘That's genius!' I thought when I discovered Rosie Reynolds made homemade ravioli speedily by softening pre-made lasagne sheets, then simply folding them over to enclose the filling. Using a pasta machine is the kind of slow, meditative cooking I enjoyed pre-kids – but the alternative, ready-made ravioli, is pretty dispiriting. This sounded like a clever compromise.
The first stage, making the sweet potato filling in the microwave, was a breeze, and a quick check confirmed it tasted gorgeous. Meanwhile, the shallow pasta water rapidly came to the boil in my frying pan and the lasagne sheets, added with a splash of olive oil, soon softened. But disaster struck when I came to “drain and separate the sheets”. Clumped together in a colander, there was no separating the sheets without ripping them. Softening more pasta, I improvised and lifted each sheet individually from the water with a fish slice.
With my sheets cut in half and arrayed across two chopping boards, I was ready to dollop in the filling and fold over the pasta. Frustratingly, the corners nearest the fold always had a tiny gap and wouldn't seal properly however I rearranged the filling. But no matter – the final stage was frying the ravioli in sage-flavoured butter, which kept all the filling neatly inside as the outsides turned golden.
With all my extra first-time faffing, it took me nearly an hour to make the dish, instead of 35 minutes. But the end result looked pretty professional and tasted lovely.
:: The Shortcut Cook by Rosie Reynolds, photography by Louise Hagger, is published by Hardie Grant, priced £15. Try the recipes below yourself.
SHRIMP BURGER WITH SRIRACHA MAYO
600g raw prawns
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Small handful of coriander, stems and leaves separated and finely chopped
Zest of ½ lime
1tbsp light-flavoured oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Sriracha mayo:
1½tbsp Sriracha chilli sauce
4 sesame-seed buns
Handful of rocket
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
Put half of the prawns in a food processor and pulse a couple of times until roughly chopped, then tip into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining prawns to the food processor and pulse to coarse, paste-like texture. Add to the chopped prawns. Mix in the spring onions, chilli, coriander, lime zest, and plenty of seasoning.
Divide the burger mixture into four equal parts. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan (skillet) set over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, spoon the portions of burger mixture into the pan and gently flatten to form four burger shapes. Fry for six minutes, turning halfway through.
Meanwhile, make the Sriracha mayo by mixing the mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce together.
Split the buns and toast the cut sides. Spread the buns with spicy mayo, then add a little rocket, some avocado slices and a shrimp burger to each. Chop the zested lime in half, for squeezing, if you like.
The burger mix can be made in advance, covered and chilled for up to two days. The Sriracha mayo can be made and chilled for up to one week.
Whizzing the shrimp to a paste ensures that the proteins hold the burgers together without the need for binders, such as eggs. Scoops of burger mix are fried and roughly shaped in the pan, so no fiddly shaping here.
ASIAN CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
1–2tbsp sesame oil
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
6 spring onions, green and white parts separated and finely chopped
5cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
4 garlic cloves, sliced
800ml cold water
2tbsp light soy sauce
2tbsp Chinese cooking wine or rice wine vinegar
¼tsp caster sugar
250g dried fine egg noodles
4 pak choi (bok choi), halved lengthways
Fermented black bean and chilli sauce or your favourite chilli sauce or chilli oil, to serve
Heat a drizzle of the sesame oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chicken thighs, skin-side down, and leave to cook undisturbed for three to five minutes, or until the skin is golden brown. Flip over and cook for a further three minutes.
Push the chicken to one side and add a little more sesame oil to the pan, then add the white parts of the spring onions, along with the ginger and garlic. Fry for two minutes then pour in the cold water, soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine, along with any remaining sesame oil. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more soy, rice wine or sesame oil as you feel necessary.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken thighs from the soup. Discard the skin (if you don't like it) and the bones, then use a couple of forks to pull the meat apart.
Add the noodles to the soup and cook for two minutes, then add the pak choi and cook for a further three minutes until tender. Stir the shredded chicken back into the soup, then ladle into four serving bowls. Serve topped with the spring onion greens and a drizzle of chilli oil.
Make the soup base up to three days in advance, or cook and freeze the broth and chicken. Pre-cook your noodles and add to the soup with the greens.
This one-pot method means you waste no time in making a broth to then make a soup – it all works magically in one step.