One-pot Wonders

G Magazine

Traditional cooking techniques across all cultures are great examples of energy conservation


Credit: iStockphoto

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Prior to the advent of electric ovens and gas stovetops, and before coal stoves, all cooking was done over fuel gathered by hand. As a result, there are one-pot dishes that conserve fuel right across the globe.

Wok cooking is a classic case.

Woks are made from very thin spun steel and were designed to transfer heat rapidly from the little rice stalk fires under them. (As a rule, where rice is grown there is not a lot of forest for wood).

The food is cut into small, quick-to-cook pieces to make the most of the burst of heat. Fast hot-wok cooking has its own special flavour called wok hay in Cantonese or "breath of the wok", lively seared and caramelised flavours melded with the aroma of hot steel.

In contrast, the unhurried nature of the European stewpot is a result of the indigenous hardwood forests.

Oak, beech, cherry and ash burn long and slow. A fire does not have to be hot to cook meat - any temperature above 70ºC, given time, will turn the toughest, and therefore cheapest, cut of cow, pig or sheep into rich, lip-smacking morsels.

A slow log-fire, in a stove or fireplace, will both cook the meal and heat the home.

Today we are left with hundreds of slow-cooked dishes like Lincolnshire Hotpot, a stew of lamb shoulder and potatoes or the French cassoulet, a hyper-rich meal of beans, pork, sausage and duck with a crunchy top.
Simmering on Spanish stoves you'll find cocido - a three-course meal of soup, vegetables, meat, lentils and sausages cooked in the one pot.

The Australian bush campfire is both an ancient and traditional form of cooking.

I remember before the kids came along we'd spend every summer camping on our bush block down the coast. After a day on the beach we'd collect wood and light a fire. Over the flames we'd heat big pots of water for washing up dishes, and ourselves, later on.

When the fire had died down we'd cook our meal over the dying embers. Into the coals went root vegetables wrapped in foil and over the coals went a whole leg of lamb that was boned out and cut into a single inch-thick piece.

We'd also cook eggplant for babaganoush, and capsicum, onion and garlic for asadillo. But the fire was only ever big enough to cook over and keep us warm at night - anything more was a waste of wood.