One Pan Meals

The one pan meal is the fraternal (non-identical) twin of the one pot meal. For time strapped cooks, the one pot meal reaches one extreme of hands-off cooking with the revival of the crockpot and for cooks in a rush, the one pan meal reaches the other extreme of hands-on cooking. Similarly, one pot cooking results in soft food with melded flavors, while one pan cooking results in firmer food where the flavors pop.

Perhaps the best known one pan recipes are stir-frys, but you can find one pan recipes in all cuisines and using all kinds of pans. Here's a plan you can always use to get dinner quickly on the table and have only one pan to clean.

  1. Collect all the ingredients you want to use and figure out how long it will take to prepare each one.
  2. Pre-prepare a few of the more time consuming ingredients so you don't need to worry about them while the pan is threatening to burn. If you are at all unsure about your timing, just pre-prepare all the ingredients. 
  3. Figure out what order to cook the ingredients in the pan. Generally the order is longest cooking time to shortest cooking time. But there are exceptions, for instance if you are cooking chicken with the skin, you may want to do that first to brown the chicken better and leave behind chicken drippings to cook the remaining ingredients.
  4. Prepare the ingredient you decided to cook first and toss it in the pan, with an oil/fat or cooking liquid if necessary.
  5. While one ingredient is cooking, prepare the next ingredient you are going to cook.
  6. Remove the current ingredient once it is cooked and put on a plate or in a bowl and cover or otherwise keep warm.
  7. Cook the next ingredient. 
  8. Repeat steps 5 through 7 until all ingredients are cooked and ready to serve.
  9. (Optional) Make a sauce using what remains in the pan. A common model is to add a sour liquid to break up what is in the pan then add either something sweet or something salty to balance the flavors. You can also add something creamy or thickening to adjust the consistency and herbs and spices to taste.
You will notice times when you are done preparing the next ingredient but the current ingredient is still cooking. Those are the magical moments of one pan cooking: if the remaining time to cook the current ingredient time is more than the time needed for the next ingredient, just add the new ingredient to the pan when the time remaining for the current ingredient matches the time need for the next ingredient. Voila! you just saved the time it would have taken to cook the next ingredient separately. When taken to the extreme, the entire meal builds up in the pan and gets dished out in one piping hot flick of the wrist. 

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