When I took college friends home for weekends, my mother’s first question was “What should I cook?” And the answer was always the same: “a pot.”
Going from Ole Miss to Memphis was a different animal from LSU to New Orleans. What our taste buds were calling for was good-old Deep South home cooking and a break from the hamburgers, French fries and candy bars that were sustaining us. But we knew little of gumbo, poor boys and jambalaya.
Things certainly changed when our kids were driving in from LSU and ULL. One wanted jambalaya with whole pieces of chicken every time. The other was satisfied with easy red beans.
Still, there’s a lot to be said for a country-style “pot,” for I have since learned that children from toddlers to college-age love its simple contents, and nothing is easier for the busy cook.
With school and activities cranking up in September, why not let two pots simmer over the weekend to last for much of the week? A friend of mine cooked only on Sundays. A big piece of meat such as a roast or small turkey went into the oven while a pot of soup, beans or other creations bubbled on the stove. Several meals were gleaned, along with a multitude of sandwiches.
I often use my mother’s oval aluminum roaster because it is large and cooks evenly. I occasionally use her black iron pot that is no telling how old, as well as a red-enameled cast iron pot which is pretty, but I swear it gets heavier every year. I often grab my Emeril-ware stainless steel pot that is much lighter but still has a heavy bottom, an important feature which keeps food from sticking and promotes even cooking.
A whole chicken or a medium-sized beef roast are naturals for pot cooking. To cook a roast, season and brown a three-pound chuck roast, top with chopped onion and lots of Worcestershire, simmer for 1 hour, turn roast over, and add a cup of water, carrots and potatoes, cover and simmer until meat is very tender. And don’t forget the gravy. Mix a fourth cup of flour with water and strain into the drippings, stirring, until thickened. You’ve got two dinners and a few sandwiches.
Tips: French Cooking Made Easy
1. Leave it to the masterful French cooks to design a one-pot meal of three courses with leftovers for more meals.
2. A pot-au-feu, or pot of fire, combines lean meats, often beef, and marrow bones, boiled in a pot with vegetables, both leafy and root. Onions, garlic and aromatic herbs add flavor.
3. First, the rich broth is strained and served as a soup, accompanied by toasted croutons. A little port or Madeira may sweeten the taste. Next, the bone marrow is served, spread on toasted French bread. Finally, meat is sliced and spread on a platter, surrounded by vegetables. Condiments such as gherkins, mustards, pickled beets and onions are served on the side.
4. Leftover meat will enhance a salad, be served with potatoes or sauce, or made into shepherd’s pie, meatballs or croquettes.
One-Pot Chicken Dinner
1 whole chicken
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and Creole seasoning
1 Tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, cut in ¼-inch slices
2 to 3 carrots, scraped and cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 cup frozen lima beans
4 cups egg noodles
1. Remove giblets from chicken and reserve for other use. Rinse chicken well, removing excess fat. Sprinkle with seasonings inside and out.
2. In a large, heavy pot, melt butter and saute onion and celery until wilted. Add 4 cups water, and place chicken in pot. Sprinkle water with a little more seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes.
3. Turn chicken over and add carrots and lima beans to the pot, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over again. Increase heat to boiling and add noodles, pressing them into water. Reduce heat again and simmer until noodles are al dente, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. When ready to serve, cut chicken into pieces and slice breast. Serves 6