Lunar New Year, which stretches on for fifteen days, always reminds me of a family outing to Chinatown in London, during which I discovered the joy of Chinese-style one-bowl dishes.
Keen to get away from the crowds, we stumbled upon a very authentic restaurant slightly off the beaten track, where we were welcomed with huge bowls of steaming noodles, topped with shredded duck, a light, savoury stock and fresh spring onions, along with some handmade dumplings on the side. It was just what we needed to warm up and recharge.
As it turns out, one-bowl dishes are a fantastic thing to get into for simple, nutritious family meals. They are also sometimes known as one-pot meals, with the cooking method involving only stir-frying, braising, or boiling. My favourite one-bowl or one-pot meals are those that are simple to pull together and can feed the whole family or a crowd with minimum fuss.
The slow cooker is my favourite vessel for these dishes, as the very gentle temperature and longer cooking time helps the flavours to infuse and the meat to soften. A whole chicken, covered with stock can be left to simmer gently, ready to shred over some noodles. If you’re making a Chinese-style casserole, perhaps with some braising beef, you can gently fry some garlic, ginger, onions and chilli for a few minutes until soft and fragrant, before adding in the meat. Boneless pork shoulder works well in ‘hot-pot’ recipes too, chopped into smaller chunks and simmered. One of my favourite one-pot meals are these Sweet duck legs, cooked with plums, soy sauce and star anise – you really can’t go wrong.
There are a few extra tricks that will make a big difference when making these dishes. Choosing good aromatics is one of these – as mentioned with the beef above, a base of fresh ginger, garlic and chilli is the most common approach. If you like things extra-spicy, add some dried chilli flakes or even a dash of hot chilli sauce. For a richer flavour, Shaoxing rice wine and a good splash of soy sauce is often recommended. Star anise or Chinese five-spice powder are two other flavours that feature often in Chinese one-pot meals.
Vegetables are also a huge part of the overall texture of the dish, and can also add a lovely clean taste. Mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, pak choi, carrots, broccoli or green beans are all failsafe options.
If you’ve added stock, or are making a dish based on a broth recipe (Maddie’s guide to making the perfect broth will give you some good ideas) and want to thicken up your sauce, mix a tablespoon of cornflour with cold water until smooth and then add that to your pot. As the sauce starts to boil, the sauce will thicken. Alternatively, you can simply add in plenty of noodles or rice to soak up the liquid.
It’s also important to use good-quality, higher-welfare meat. Pork belly is really great for braising, as are tougher cuts, whilst leaner cuts are better suited to stir-frying. Sometimes, the meat is blanched in hot water to remove any impurities, and it’s very common for one-pot recipes to suggest marinating the meat first for flavour and to help tenderise it.
You could try your hand at Jamie’s Roast duck with spicy noodles and crunchy veg, which is a really versatile dish offering a variety of one-bowl options. The duck can be made ahead, or used immediately by carefully pulling the meat away from the bones, or shedding it with a fork ready to top some noodles or rice.
There also one particular technique known as ‘red cooking’ or ‘Chinese stewing’ – which is when soy sauce, fermented bean paste or caramelised sugar is added to create a red colour to the finished dish. You can find a great recipe for a slow cooked red roast pulled pork here – the meat is perfect for shredding and serving in a big pot with added vegetables and some noodles of your choice.
When it comes to serving your one-pot meal, finish your bowls off with some crunch – a scattering of ready-to-eat beansprouts, sliced spring onions (scallions) and plenty of fresh herbs or peppery watercress all work well.
Whichever recipe you try, I hope you enjoy exploring some ‘one bowl’ options for this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations, and beyond!