Whether you cook them low and slow or fast and furious, these comforting dishes continue a simple and beloved culinary tradition
One-pot meals are a cooking technique that has graced campfires and dinner tables for centuries. Back when cooking was done over open fires – without a cupboard full of stainless steel pans to rely on – people would bring out one big pot, toss in numerous ingredients and tell stories while waiting for the food to cook.
Today, the recipes may have evolved – we doubt cavemen were eating kale – but the idea remains the same: groups of friends and families coming together, armed with a spoon, to share a meal that’s been cooked in a single pot.
You can cook these one-pot wonders slowly or quickly. If prepared in advance and cooked gently over several hours, meat will tenderise beautifully and fall off the bone. A quick cook, however, is handy for people with busy schedules, dashing in from work, with 10 minutes to rustle up a family dinner.
Most world cuisines have a few one-pot concoctions in their repertoire. A North African tagine with lamb or chicken, apricots, chickpeas and a rich tomato sauce goes marvellously with fluffy couscous. In Britain, people happily tuck into a cheesy fish pie, a satisfying sausage casserole or a hotpot from the north of England that is a hearty stew of meat, potatoes and chunky vegetables in a thick gravy.
French classics such as chicken chasseur is a beloved peasant dish from rural areas that benefit from slow cooking to let the flavours marry and allow the chicken to become tender but retain its juices. Eastern Europeans, meanwhile, are fond of a thick goulash made with beef cubes and a rich sauce that’s best mopped up with crusty bread.
Different varieties of beans cooked slowly are a common feature of Italian one-pot dishes, while orzo pasta adopts a lovely silky texture when given time. Over in Malaysia, you’ll find spicy yellow curries with coconut cream cooked in a single pot, or a vegetable or meat curry from the sub continent. Mexico, of course, has its world-renowned chilli con carne, a spicy and comforting pot of minced beef, kidney beans, tomatoes and – if made authentically – a sprinkling of dark chocolate.
Affordable to make, one-pot dishes are popular because they take the hassle out of cooking as they require only minimal attention: a quick stir halfway through is usually all they need. And, if slow-cooked, ingredients are given time to release their flavours, thus producing more intensity and texture. The result? A delicious meal that tastes like it must have taken great skill and care to produce, yet is actually one of the easiest things you can make. Plus, using only one pot means the washing-up is a doddle.