One-pot wonders

Keep things simple, curb energy use and clean up time
Keep things simple, curb energy use and clean up time (Chicago Tribune/Bill Hogan)

TV chefs toss pots here, skillets there. Saucepans bubble up on several burners. It's drama! It's intense! It's the foodie equivalent of "24."

It's not your reality. You don't need all those dishes, all that drama, all those pans to scrub — all those exclamation points.

You need a great one-pot meal. Most require nothing more than a knife, a cutting board, plus a good-size pot with a lid, perhaps a Dutch oven of enamel-glazed iron or a deep skillet. And with one pot, you'll use only one burner on the stove (read: less energy) and have fewer dishes to do (read: less soap and water).

Quite a few classic dishes are one-pot wonders, from beef stew and its wine-kissed sibling boeuf bourguignon on through cioppino, jambalaya and sancocho.

A good one-pot meal has several elements: a protein (meat, fish, tofu), aromatics (onions, garlic, herbs, spices), vegetables and a starch (potatoes, rice, grains, pasta).

Well made, it boasts balanced flavors and a variety of textures. To get there, maximize flavors, minimize effort and don't overcook the vegetables.

The Food Network's Daisy Martinez maximizes the flavors of ingredients by gently browning elements of a dish before combining them.

"I always brown the protein first because that coaxes out flavor," she said. "The caramelization on the surface adds another nuance of flavor to whatever it is that you're cooking."

That initial browning of elements such as proteins and aromatics also is the way restaurateur and lifestyle maven Barbara Smith begins a one-pot meal, even when she starts with tofu.

"Tofu doesn't have much flavor, but you can crisp it up a bit, then take it out of the pot before adding your other flavors," she said. She then returns the tofu at the end of cooking time.

The starch element, whether potatoes, rice or a grain, is important not only for the body it adds to the dish, but also, when the starch is released, for providing "a nice glossiness and a nice satin feel," said Martinez, who also likes to use yucca and malanga.

And vegetables? They deliver color and texture. Smith likes to add chopped kale to a one-pot meal, letting it steam on top of the other simmering ingredients before stirring it in. "It's OK to have a little crunch."

A one-pot meal is also, she said, "about creativity and not being afraid to try things."


Chicken with rice (Arroz con pollo)

Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 45 minutes Makes: 10 servings

Adapted from Daisy Martinez's "Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night." You can make sofrito (a mix of chopped onions, peppers, garlic, cilantro and tomatoes) or purchase a prepared version at Latin American food markets. For achiote oil, heat 2 tablespoons achiote seeds in 1 cup olive oil; when seeds start to sizzle, strain to use.

1/4 cup achiote oil or olive oil 2 chickens, cut up 1 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper 1 cup prepared sofrito 1/2 cup chopped pimiento-stuffed olives 1 teaspoon ground cumin Pinch ground cloves 4 cups long-grain white rice 6 cups chicken broth, as needed 2 large bottled roasted red peppers, cut in 1/4-inch strips

1: Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Season chicken with half of the salt and pepper to taste. Place chicken pieces, in batches, skin-side down in the Dutch oven; cook, turning as needed, until well browned, about 10 minutes. Remove to a platter.

2: Add sofrito and olives to pot. Season with remaining salt and pepper to taste. Raise heat to medium high; cook until liquid has evaporated. Stir in cumin, cloves and rice. Return chicken to pot. Pour in broth to cover rice by 1 inch. Heat to a boil; cook over high heat until liquid level reaches top of the rice, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Cover; cook until liquid is absorbed, rice is tender but firm and chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Fluff rice with fork. Garnish with roasted pepper strips.

Nutrition information

Per serving: 721 calories, 36% of calories from fat, 28 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 114 mg cholesterol, 67 g carbohydrates, 46 g protein, 868 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

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