I don’t think my family is any different from others when it comes to doing the dishes. No one likes it. The finger pointing about whose turn it is to take on the task often starts before the meal is over, which is not my idea of compelling dinner table conversation.
On the other hand, if it’s a night with a relatively easy cleanup, as is the case with one-pan meals, someone usually (and wisely) volunteers to be on dish duty, knowing that the next night is likely to be more work. Ah, yes, a peaceful end to a lovely meal. Isn’t that the hope of every parent?
Making an actual one-pan meal can be a little tricky. A quick scan of the Internet turns up all kinds of recipes that, for the most part, are cooked in a skillet, except it directs you to serve the dish over steamed rice, or with a green salad. Or, my personal favorite, one of the ingredients will be “Pasta, cooked as directed on the package.” Hello? All those things mean at least one extra vessel. That seems like cheating.
No, a true one-pan meal is cooked, from beginning to end, in one pan, and it’s not that hard to do. The trick is to arrange the order in which you cook the ingredients so you get everything done in the pot without over- or undercooking anything.
Case in point: Imagine you’re making pork chops with sweet potatoes. If you brown the chops, then add the sweet potatoes and cooking liquid to the pan and continue to cook it all together until the potatoes are tender, your chops will be cardboard. If you brown the chops at the beginning, cook them until almost done, then remove them while the potatoes are cooking, you can add them back at the very end, let them cook long enough to rewarm and the whole dish is done to perfection. Easy.
Stews or braises are also easy and classically comforting one-pot meals, but they take a while to cook, as the meat is often a tough cut that needs a long cooking time to become tender — not usually an option for a Tuesday night.
One technique that makes one-pan dinners so simple is cooking pasta, rice or some kind of grain directly in the skillet with broth, stock or another flavorful cooking liquid. Such is the case with this “30 minutes or less” Creamy Chicken, Broccoli and Pasta Skillet.
Chicken tenders are cut into bite-sized pieces and browned in the hot skillet, then removed while the pasta, along with some onions, garlic and lemon zest, cooks in chicken broth. Broccoli florets and the chicken are added to cook as the pasta is almost al dente. Reduced-fat cream cheese and a little Parmesan are the finishing touches.
The result is a meal everyone loves that includes a serving of vegetables. Bonus: Everything is done at the same time while dirtying only one pan. That makes me and whoever is on the cleanup crew happy.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.