Too often, Ed Smith argues, recipes focus on feeding a crowd or cooking as a couple and overlook the joy that can be had in shopping and cooking for one. In a monthly series, he looks to redress this imbalance by taking the best of the Market’s offering and using it to come up with a recipe for one, that leaves minimal leftovers. This time: lemongrass chicken
It’s more apt than ever to be writing about how to shop and what to cook when dining alone. Though it would be easy and perhaps even acceptable to be glum about the situation we now face (the change in life since my last post would be unbelievable, were it not real), I want to bring the same positivity about solo dining that I’d intended to bring when planning the themes of this series half a year ago.
I’d always intended to point out in this, the sixth of the series, that one of my favourite things in life is eating out on my own; sitting at the counter at somewhere like Flor, watching the kitchen beaver away; perching on a corner seat in Arabica, with the notebook in which I formulate my to do lists; at the back of Bao, under the sky light; or looking out into the Market from the bar stools in Stoney Street. On all these occasions I enjoy a bit of me time, while at the same time I revel in the background buzz. And I enjoy ordering and eating just what I want.
Sadly, none of us will be dining out for a while—whether alone or in a group. But I guess for most there will be a lot of ‘me time’ to come over the next few months. And to avoid going stir crazy, I think we will have to cook and eat what we want, often. We should try to enjoy doing that. In the glass half full cup: we may have more hours than ever to learn and to try new things—no excuses now. In the glass half empty: where will our ingredients come from?
Practical and pragmatic
From seeing how the supermarkets have been stripped of food over the last few weeks, and from observing behaviours in China and Italy over the last couple of months, it’s obvious that we ought to be more frugal and thrifty, practical and pragmatic than we as a nation have been for decades. And we’ll also need to shop local; support the independents that are based wherever you live. I noted with interest that Borough Market’s physical space has pivoted from one with the purpose of providing provisions, congregation and engagement, to one solely devoted to serving and feeding the community of SE1 and its close environs.
If that’s you, you’re lucky. Right now there aren’t actually many better or more appropriate places to shop. The access to both speciality and daily essentials remains remarkable, while there’s space to keep contact at a minimum.
Indeed it was a slightly different experience to normal when I got off my bike this time round, having cycled through nearly deserted streets around Moorgate, Bank and then London Bridge. And I arrived with a different purpose too—not a (what seems now) relatively frivolous wander in search of one meal, but a focused trip to cover a handful of meals, possibly more. I shopped to top-up just what I needed, knowing that my fridge is mostly full already, and I’ve also built-up an eclectic store cupboard over the last few years.
One chicken from Wyndham House will keep me fed over multiple meals. I’m happy to joint it myself, turning a bird into two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings, two breasts and a carcass. You could ask the butcher to quickly do that for you; or spend 20 minutes at home learning to do the same via the internet.
Some vegetables followed—ones that I use often and that always seem to have decent fridge-life: a brown paper bag filled with carrots, green beans, cherry tomatoes, courgettes, onions, garlic, ginger. These things can flit between European and Asian cuisine very easily, and so match the make-up of my spice boxes, oils and other condiments. Just before getting to the till I had the urge to eat something on the Asian spectrum, and so I picked up some fiery chillies (which freeze well) a tied pack of lemongrass (lasts a while in the fridge, adds so much flavour).
That increasing craving for eastern flavours brought me back to my store cupboard—the kaffir lime leaves I’ve barely touched and the pot of star anise that’s used quite often but never seems to go down. I’ve got cans of coconut milk too, but I remembered some Indonesian creamed coconut that I’d previously got from Spice Mountain, which you grate just a little at a time and dissolve in water, with similar effect to the cans. It takes up much less space, lasts forever, and will keep my food interesting for however long this lasts. So I purchased a new one of those and went home to braise my chicken legs in an aromatic coconut stock, and to prepare hot and sour Thai-style som tam salad to punch any sad thoughts away.
Virtual social cooking
This will be a strange and sometimes bleak period of forced isolation. But (finally, something to cheer!) thanks to technology, while some of us might be cooking and eating for one, we don’t have to be lonely while doing so. The habit of ‘Whatsappy hour’ will become a familiar one, I’m sure. And though the Market has necessarily pivoted away from congregation, it’s also going to be working harder than ever to serve the community through other means. Virtual social cooking will be stepped-up—watch out for and join in with cook-alongs, demos and step-by-step recipes. Watch and engage with @boroughmarket on Instagram and Facebook (say hi to me over at @rocketandsquash too). So many of us will be cooking and eating for one, but we’re all in this together.
*If you live in central London and can’t or don’t want to visit the Market during Covid-19 period, take a look at Borough Market Online, which collates your order and delivers it by cargo bike to your door.