Picture by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times.
How many dishes can you cook on autopilot?

I’m talking about easy meals that your hands can manage on their own, leaving your mind free to ruminate about your hard day at work or help your kids memorise their multiplication tables. Or to make sure you enjoy the long weekend without worrying too much about what to cook.

If the answer is zero, not counting scrambled eggs or pasta with jar sauce, read on.

The more often you can just cook without worrying through a recipe, the freer, easier and more relaxed dinner time will be. You and your family will be better fed, too.

You will need to take three steps to get there

  • You need to learn a few techniques, but not in the time-intensive sense of advanced knife skills or mastering emulsions. Just fundamental skills: roasting, sautéing, broiling. That is, going from raw to cooked.
  • You need to know the basics of adding flavours: aromatics, spices, herbs. This is entirely subjective. If you love lemon, add the zest as well as the juice. What about garlic, onions, fresh ginger and chillies? Leave them out or pile them on. Use whole spices to add fragrance and texture, and ground spices for their scent alone. Herbs give freshness, brightness and colour.
  • You need to learn to measure by eye or hand. Measuring tools slow you down while you cook, and create more mess at the end.

This is easily mastered. 

It’s all about getting to know how your pinch relates to the amount of food at hand. And for anything you cook, tasting as you go is essential. Add more salt, more vinegar, a dash of hot sauce or a drizzle of olive oil before your guests have a chance to wonder what’s missing on the plate.

The New York Times