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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

15 minutes (15 λεπτά)

Jamie Oliver, a respected UK chef, supporter of real food, advisor to the state on nutrition issues, entrepreneur of businesses employing troubled teens, ordinary-looking bloke with extraordinary charm, has published yet another sure-to-sell (expensive) cookbook with a catchy title, Jamie's 15-Minute Meals. You can't browse through it on Amazon (presumably because Jamie is well known enough not to need to resort to such attention as self-advertising). Nor is the book available on environmentally-friendly e-book readers, which means that if you want to view/read the book, you need to have a paper copy in your hands; you need to buy it or lend it from a library, which is why I believe it won't be getting into my hands very soon, hence I can't provide a review of this book. 

To make a simple but tasty puttanesca sauce using fresh ingredients in a quarter of an hour, you could try boiling your pasta in with the watery sauce. Cleaning/chopping/grating the onion, garlic, peppers, caper leaves and tomatoes didn't take as long as it did to simmer the sauce; the former needed about 5 minutes, the latter needed about 25 minutes.

I work fast in my own kitchen, mainly because I know where things are kept, and I like to prep meals, so that I can concentrate on cooking times and flavourings. But there are very few meals that I can truly say I cook in 15 minutes. I can prepare a salad or serve leftovers in less than that time, but to actually cook a whole meal in 15 minutes? Impossible: it would undoubtedly mean skimping on cooking time.

Jamie defends his position for his previous book for 30-minute meals (critics were equally dubious about that one too...), saying:
I could give you a lot of defensive s--- and say they didn’t do the recipes exactly from the book or didn’t use a food processor for chopping – which is an absolute must, unless you have knife skills like me. I look on Twitter and somebody says it took them 45 minutes and I think ‘God bless you, keep trying and you’ll speed up next time'."
So what does it take to be able to cook a meal from his book in 15 minutes? According to Stevie Parle, a professional chef who made Jamie's Seared Asian Beef, it only took him 10 minutes. But beef (in particular) cooked in less than a quarter of an hour could (and would) never be contemplated in a Greek kitchen, yet Stevie tells us he can cook that up for you whipper-snapper. In fact, no meat would be cooked in such little time in a Greek kitchen - and if you keep things neutral in terms of countries, just think of how long it takes to cook something in order to ensure that any bacteria that may unwittingly be carried in raw meat is killed off. By the time you place the meat into the cooking vessel and heat it up to start cooking, you've wasted a few minutes already, so your mea\t won't even be cooking for fifteen minutes

Vegetable pasta sauce using fresh ingredients - if you cooked the sauce for only 10 or so minutes, you'd get a soup instead of a sauce.

Including the phrase '15 minutes' in the title of a book makes it sound very appealing to the health conscious who spend too long at work making enough disposable income to buy this expensive book, but I wouldn't have thought that Jamie Oliver would need to resort to such cheap tricks. After all, he's known for his sensible approach to food. What I found particularly alarming was the number of recipes using raw meat, which were all to be cooked in up to 15 minutes. Even if the meal I'm preparing is a tomato sauce to top something like pasta, I'd still need more time than Jamie to cook it - if it contained raw meat, I'd be suspicious of something that took less than 15 minutes to cook.


Speaking of Greek food, Sarah Rainey tried to cook Jamie's Greek chicken, herby vegetable couscous and tzatziki (never mind the fact that it is highly unlikely you will find couscous in Greek cuisine, and the only thing that makes this dish sound Greek at all is perhaps the mention of tzatziki) in a quarter of an hour: "The recipe is written in his trademark chatty style: I’m told to “scrunch” the cucumber and “bash” the chicken before “popping” it all on a platter to serve." It still took her twice as long to make the dish, while forgetting to add a couple of ingredients, grating her thumb while she made the tzatziki and almost burning rather than chargrilling the chicken, in order to meet the time restriction.


To make a puttanesca sauce in fifteen minutes, your tomato sauce will need to pre-prepared.

Jamie's runaway success with his '15 minutes' book was based on the outcome of his previous success with Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, which was also criticised for the time factor, although I'd be more inclined to believe it to be feasible (especially if the meals were mainly vegetarian). I like his humanitarian actions, but they too obviously have marketing appeal, and it's quite clear that this very young millionaire's marketing skills dominate in his latest venture - it will clearly make money, even if it doesn't yield what it promises. As a potential reviewer on Amazon stated: "I was thinking of buying Jamie's 30 Minute Meals but then I saw Jamie's 15 Minute Meals... so now I might just wait for the 5 minute one." 

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