'How To Cook Everything Fast'? Bittman Says Skip The Prep
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
You know this scene, at least I do. It's been a long day at work, you're late to pick up your kids and you have exactly one hour to make dinner before your family starts a revolution. You need help getting something delicious on the table in short order. New York Times food columnist and food writer Mark Bittman is here help. His latest cookbook is called, "How To Cook Everything Fast." Mark Bittman joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
MARK BITTMAN: It's great to be here.
MARTIN: So, you've got several books in the "How To Cook Everything" series. These are bold claims you make - everything? Really? Everything?
BITTMAN: Well, the everything part is - you know, it's the marketers, what can I say?
BITTMAN: And, you know, "How To Cook Everything" has always been simple, and it's always been basic. And I like to think it's always been smart. But it wasn't necessarily fast, and that's what people really want.
So the goal is that you walk in the kitchen, you open the page to the recipe you want. Assuming you have the ingredients, you just start. You turn on the oven, you put a pan on the stove, you start some water boiling, whatever it is. You don't do this outmoded thing that the French called mise en place - this outmoded system of pulling out all your ingredients at once and preparing them and then starting to cook.
MARTIN: These aren't just recipes. You're giving step-by-step instructions. While you're making this, you should prep this.
BITTMAN: Exactly, and it's timed so that each step has a preparation angle, a preparation portion and a cooking portion. But they're timed so that each one segways perfectly - naturally into the other.
MARTIN: So I tried my hand at a couple of these recipes.
BITTMAN: I'm really glad to hear that.
MARTIN: (Laughter) I made the stir-fried curried chickpeas, with potatoes and carrots.
BITTMAN: Nice recipe.
MARTIN: It was delicious - and the fastest chicken parm. So I wanted to talk about both of these. I mean, I did the chickpeas with potatoes and carrots honestly because I happened to have a can of coconut milk way back in my pantry
BITTMAN: As good a reason as any.
MARTIN: And I needed a reason to us it and I have to say it was good, it was pretty fast. I'm not sure that can of coconut milk wasn't expired. But you know, that's - you can't help me with that.
BITTMAN: You can't lay that on me, no.
MARTIN: But I have to say the chicken parm was not so fast for me.
BITTMAN: How long did it take you?
MARTIN: Well, it took me about 45 minutes, but I think that's because the chicken breasts that I used may not have been thin enough.
BITTMAN: You cut them in half?
MARTIN: No, I just pounded them to make them thinner.
BITTMAN: Well, you have to read the instructions I'm sorry.
BITTMAN: I don't know what to tell you. You can't say it took longer than...
MARTIN: So there's no room for improvisation?
BITTMAN: Well, let me walk you through the recipe and we won't criticize your - the fact that you've ignored the recipe entirely. But I think - this is my favorite recipe in the book. And it should be 30 minutes. You turn the broiler on, you slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally, so they will cook faster and then you pound them a little bit on top of that. So they should be...
MARTIN: Yeah, I missed that step.
BITTMAN: half-an-inch thick at the most at that point and then you put the chicken cutlets on this already baking sheet and top with these tomatoes that you sliced when you were slicing the chicken breasts and you just broil on one side. And that should take only 10 minutes or less. And then while that's happening you grade cheese, mozzarella and Parmesan and you get some basil ready and you make a mix of breadcrumbs and the cheeses and when chicken's done you put all that stuff on top and put it back in the broiler. And I've made this three or four times and I think it's just an incredible recipe. And it's not only faster than making a tomato sauce and baking the chicken and coating it in breadcrumbs and all of that. I think it's better, it's really got a wonderful freshness to it.
MARTIN: I'll just make sure to read the directions next time.
BITTMAN: (Laughter) Thank you.
MARTIN: What's your go to meal, when you come home late and harried and maybe you have great ingredients in your cupboard, but maybe you don't?
BITTMAN: Well, if I'm - if it's late and I'm harried, chances are I don't have great ingredients. I mean, I strongly believe that you have to have a well-stocked pantry and you have to have some stuff in your refrigerator. But if you get home late and harried chances are you don't. You haven't had time to shop for the freshest stuff that you might have. So, you know, I do a lot of pasta. I do a lot of eggs. There's some - a great recipe in here for scrambled eggs with broccoli that's become a symbol for a lot of people. It's just kind of got that right comfort foodie feeling and it takes 15 minutes. I mean, it's really good, but, you know, I do - like many people, I do a lot of pasta when it's late at night.
MARTIN: The key is to not be afraid. Even I can do this.
BITTMAN: That is the key - and to read the instructions.
MARTIN: To read the recipe. Mark Bittman - he writes about food for the New York Times. He is the author of the new book, "How to Cook Everything Fast." Thanks so much for talking with us, Mark.
BITTMAN: It's been real fun. Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.