Originally from Brooklyn, Melissa Clark has written over 40 cookbooks, both of her own varied recipes and of converting recipes from chefs and restaurants for home cooks. She has contributed to the cooking section of The New York Times since 2007 and has won two awards from the James Beard Foundation. During the pandemic, Clark created “Dinner in One: Exceptional and Easy One-Pan Meals.” She’ll be doing a cooking demo and book signing at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, and Mason Hereford of Turkey and the Wolf will be providing snacks. Autographed books will also be available at the Garden District Book Shop. Find tickets at natfab.org and more information about Clark’s cookbooks at melissaclark.net.
Gambit: What inspired this cookbook?
Melissa Clark: This was born out of the pandemic. It’s one thing to cook dinner four or five nights a week, but during the pandemic I was cooking three meals a day. It was like, whoa, there’s a lot of dishes. So, I was like, how can I make it easier for myself? The one pot, one pan solution made a lot of sense. Lots of recipes were almost there. Maybe it was a pot and a pan or a pot and a pan when you’re making pasta. But I was like, let me impose this discipline on everything and really make a pot out of it. I found the food to be just as good and my cleanup to be easier. But also, in the kitchen, it’s easier if you have fewer pots, pans and bowls.
I always rationalize, but on this one I took a stand: let me make these recipes with as little mess and as little work as possible. It simplified everything. Some of the flavor combinations I’ve worked on before. I have a chicken and potato dish that contains harissa. This is a really delicious slab meal from my latest book, “Dinner: Changing the Game.” For this one, I took out the chicken entirely. I used cauliflower, but they are the same flavors. It is now a vegetarian dish that is easier to cook.
Using fewer ingredients and relying on the pantry was part of (dealing with the pandemic). Another thing was substitution, because you couldn’t get everything you wanted. A big part of this book is about being able to trade things. There isn’t just one recipe in the whole book that you have to stick to. You can adapt each of them in one way or another. You can adapt it to your pantry staples. You can adapt it if you have a vegetarian meal or a vegan meal one evening. You can increase vegetables in a dish. Do you want leftovers or don’t you want leftovers? There are many ways to customize them.
The heart of my cooking is simplicity. I’ve learned so much by making other people’s recipes and trying new flavors and ingredients.
Gambit: How do you simplify recipes?
clark: Take roast chicken and potatoes. You have a whole chicken and you roast it with your potatoes together. What I did was use chicken pieces and sliced the potatoes from the thin side. So instead of having to cook your chicken for an hour, an hour and a half, I shortened the time. And it’s crispier, because when you roast a chicken, you get parts that are crispy and parts that are soggy because they’re steamed on the bottom. That way it’s crispy all the way. You get a quick cooking dish and a nice skin texture all around. I rarely cook a whole chicken.
There are recipes for chicken and dumplings and for gochujang chicken stew. Often when making any type of stew with any type of meat, the recipe will tell you to brown all sides. But it takes a long time standing on the potty. I only do it halfway. You get the same caramelized flavor. You want a thin layer of caramelized flavor at the bottom of the pan, because that’s the heart of your sauce. You can get it by browning half the meat.
Desserts are fun. They don’t really belong in this book. But my editor knows I love desserts, so she said, why don’t you make one-bowl cakes? Thematically it’s similar, because you get rid of the usual way of making cakes – you use at least two bowls, sometimes three bowls. I narrowed it down to one. I have pinched and hidden techniques to get these cakes. These are super easy weeknight cakes. You can make them any weeknight and eat them all week.
Gambit: What are you doing for your next book?
clark: This is going to be a basic book. It will be a big book that will teach people how to cook. Where in the recipes can you do it yourself? Which techniques are riffable and which techniques are non-negotiable? I break them down teaching people how to cook. It is full of recipes that everyone needs. These are essential recipes that you can then take and make your own.
Everyone is different. What is difficult for one person may be easy for another. I say, break it down, but don’t dumb it down. People are much more competent than they think.
Foodie events fill the fall calendar in New Orleans.