“It’s taken me 20 years to write the simplest book I’ve ever written,” said Jamie Oliver today at the launch of ' 5 Ingredients, quick and easy food' . The book accompanies his 18-part TV series which kicked off on Channel 4 this week. We're all sharing food content in so many ways now and this is a cooking manual for the social media generation. "I was subliminally thinking of Pinterest," Jamie told us. "How people use Pinterest, is they don’t want solutions, they want ideas."
5 Ingredients is less about beginning-to-end meals, but full of ideas you can bolt together - exciting ways to cook salmon or pork or make sweet potatoes interesting. “Half of book is complete solutions, the rest is ideas,” he explains, “so we have a whole chapter just on side dishes. We all cook the same noodle or rice dish time and time again – let’s have some ideas! It’s not a [full] meal, it’s a wicked noodle dish. Great! I’ll have that next to my roasted fish!”
In the book, you’ll find flat lays of the five raw ingredients that go to make up each dish, whether that’s mushrooms, a stalk of lemongrass or a pot of curry paste. He’s unapologetic about the fact that it’s not all straight from the soil. “I’m not too proud and 'cheffy' to use a jar or a packet. This is normal, this is the real world.”
Why 5 ingredients? “Not because it’s the number of children I’ve got – and hopefully we will stay that way – but with five ingredients you force yourself to be more structured and respectful of fewer ingredients.” It’s about restraint, he says, doing more with less, without worrying about perfection and removing the barriers to cooking from scratch.
the biggest block to cooking from scratch is a long, long list of ingredients
When we meet, he’s demonstrating two of his new recipes, Quick Asian Fishcakes (lemongrass, ginger, coriander, salmon, chilli jam) which are nothing like the dense shop-bought versions but bursting with freshness, and Garlic Mushroom Pasta (fusilli, garlic, mixed mushrooms, parmesan, half-fat creme fraiche). They take less than 15 minutes each, including chopping (which incidentally, believes is a life skill and something we can all teach our kids to do safely. “Life’s too short to be a sh*t chopper”).
For the pasta he dry-fries the mushrooms first to bring out their nuttiness (a technique he learned in Japan) before adding garlic and olive oil which then add a hint of caramelisation, getting two flavour notes without adding anything really fancy. In the show in particular, he's all about using cooking processes themselves to enrich flavours (tossing features heavily). I love his tip about reserving a bit of the starchy cooking water to throw over your finished pasta as the Italians do – which takes an everyday dish to another level. Bish, bash, bosh! is back but with everything he has learned in the 20 years since bursting on to the scene as the Naked Chef.
Looking back over his career, he says he now realises that the biggest bar to cooking from scratch is not time or necessarily budget. “For busy modern-day people who are at work texting their husband or wife or their mates or who they are sharing their halls of residence with [about what to have for dinner], the biggest block to cooking from scratch is a long, long recipe of ingredients. Complete nightmare... ‘have I got it? Have I not got it? Can I swap this in? Oh, I can’t do this recipe?’”
He describes the book as a workhorse, a manual full of dishes you can memorise and that use what you probably already have at home. “For most of these recipes, you will have three of these ingredients in your house right now.”
“What’s beautiful [about this way of cooking] is that people are texting their partners going ‘Why don’t we try that? You pick up the salmon and the coriander, we have got the noodles already’.”
Having gone back to school two years ago to study nutrition, health is at the heart of the way Jamie cooks now. But it’s not all he’s about. "75 per cent of [the book] is healthy, probably half is vegetarian and I think that’s probably what people want Monday to Friday until the weekend when you get comfort food and let it all hang out. I’m really proud of it.”
He’s still proud of his first book too. “I looked at the Naked Chef book the other day and I was 23, I was a baby, I was a special needs kid from school. It’s still a good book, I still tested every recipe. As naïve and inexperienced as I was, I knew that the public had to be given something that worked. And that book went crazy. Twenty books later I’m still as excited and I’m still learning. I have a team now, but the most important thing about this book for me is timing."
He’s definitely hit the zeitgeist, tapping into the way we eat now. We're inspired by social media, by the international selections in our supermarkets, by the healthy eating phenomenon, but we’ve reached Peak Busy and are too time-poor to shop for or prepare the complex meals we 'pin' for someday.
The book and series were completed in record time - the book in three months, the filming in four. He knew he was on to something right away. "As we were shooting, my team - the gaffers and cameramen and everyone - were coming back the next day going ‘I’ve cooked it.’ On Monday when the first show went out I spoke to someone and she said ‘I have already done the flatbreads,’ and the show only went out that evening.”
The layout of the book is as stripped back as the cooking - and that’s no accident. “As a dyslexic kid, it’s about clarity but it’s also psychological. Having white space is like saying, ‘you’re alright, you’re cool, you can do this.’ Embrace the white space, the simplicity, show them what ingredients they need." The TV sets too are cleaner, "more Scandi," he says. "The focus is on the food. It’s business, it’s dinner, it’s Monday to Friday, crack on!”
Truly democratic cooking - Jamie has done it again.
Try the recipe for Jamie's Garlic Mushroom Pasta here
5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House ⓒ Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited. Photographer: David Loftus
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