Knockout smells of spice and the sizzle of juicy meat fill the kitchen set of Jamie’s latest TV and book project, 15-Minute Meals.
And yes, Jamie’s concept delivers exactly what it claims – simple, delicious recipes crammed with flavour that can be delivered to the table in that magic quarter of an hour.
All the recipes have been tested meticulously by cooks of all standards to ensure they beat that 15-minute buzzer and, as you would expect from Jamie, inspiration has come from many corners of the culinary world. These dishes pack a substantial flavour wallop, head-swimming aromas and vibrant, gorgeous colours.
So go on Jamie, what’s it all about? “When I had a look back at 30-Minute Meals,” he says, “I thought: ‘These are actually quite big meals, and more of a Friday or Saturday night thing’. So I wanted to strip it back and make it quicker, with meals you can cook any day of the week.
“When I started writing the recipes, it wasn’t just a process of getting cracking combinations and brilliant ideas, it was also about reflecting produce that was in season and available to everyone through supermarkets. The real cleverness of it is maximum flavour and this super-quick time, so we rewrote and rewrote them until even the most average of cooks in our office could do it in under 15 minutes.”
This is still real, hands-on cooking; nothing is hidden away inside an oven or a covered casserole dish. It’s all about pans, griddles and woks, with salads getting tossed and salsas getting chopped. Jamie calls it “boisterous”.
But even though it’s hands on, this book is also about finding timesaving kitchen shortcuts. Jamie believes that the availability of basic electrical kitchen equipment these days means there is no barrier for the budget cook to get stuck into 15-Minute Meals: “In this day and age, to expect someone to have a food processor or a liquidiser isn’t a big ask, the success of these recipes is definitely down to relying on a few small bits of kit.”
And what of the inspirations? What flavours can we expect from the series?
“I wanted to come up with a ‘Top of the Pops’ of cooking. I wanted meals to be really quick and the flavours to be obvious, easily recognisable and loved. If you look through the recipes, we go from Cajun to jerk and Indian to barbecue, through to beautiful Thai-Asian flavours. There’s a whole mixture of the typical ingredients we cook with; beef, chicken, lamb, pork and fish, as well as some cracking vegetarian options. In 15-Minute Meals there is only a certain number of moves you make, it is like a dance. There is only a certain number of ingredients you can get away with too, because you would probably spend a lot of time opening stuff. So instead of using six different spices I’ll use garam masala; instead of using roast and puréed chilli and oil, I’ll just use harissa.”
There may be short cuts, but there’s definitely no compromise – it’s about being clever.
Jamie reveals one of the ways to get bang on flavours with little effort and fewer ingredients: “One of the big flavours for making the rice and carbohydrates taste incredible is easy – just use salted preserved lemons. A lot of Brits don’t know how to use them and they just sit there on the shelf. Plonk one of those in and it’s like putting rocket fuel in a little Ford Fiesta, it’s going to go a thousand-miles-an-hour, the flavours are incredible.”
“You don’t have to be able to cook like a ninja to create these dishes,” Jamie promises, “but these meals have flavour combinations that will put big smiles on the faces of your family and mates.”
And the look and vibe of the book? “I like the idea of people picking up my books and not being too snooty about food – it’s blunt and to the point. It’s business, there’s no mucking about, it’s pulling your finger out and saying: ‘Let’s create some bloody good cooking for busy people’.”
Jamie spent time wondering whether he was going to do the same as he did in 30-Minute Meals with the step-by-step pictures: “I just liked the simplicity of the dish, and the finished dish said quite a lot – not just about how cool it looks but also how to serve it. Instead of being a bit camp about how it’s all served up, it’s all a bit family and a bit DIY. It’s there to get stuck into and I love that. It’s bold colours, dark meats, light sauces and contrasting salads. Then I started tweaking recipes, and I was almost cooking by colour. Not only would you have textures – something crispy with something soft – but I’d also be putting something dark with something light. I think that is a really beautiful way to cook. It started to really work.
“To go alongside this I didn’t want step-by-step pictures, because too much information was stressing people out. So I did the opposite of 30-Minute Meals and only took one picture, and stripped the words right back. I want people to cook it quick and for it to work. People are looking at these pictures saying: ‘No way, I can’t do that in 15 minutes, you’re just saying that because you’re a chef,’ but a little read of these stripped-down words and they are convinced they can. We have had students cooking them in 15 minutes – we have done all the hard work, all of the screwing it up, so you can just get on with it.”
The book and the series, Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals, will be released in the autumn.