Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


From sentimentalist to minimalist: a few good tools are all I need

April, 2009

I’m going to call it the new minimalism. What happens ifwe get back to basics. A good knife – sharp, balanced, it feels good in the hand. Heck, it feels like an extension of the hand. It’s a chef ’s knife, 8 or 9 inches long with the tang – the metal of the blade – filling all the way into the handle. The metal is carbon steel, which needs more sharpening but keeps its edge better. It requires work.

A pot, large enough for pasta or soup stock. Finally, a frying pan, cast iron ideally. If that’s too heavy, a good quality non-stick one. Both the pan and the pot have heavy bases so that there are few if any hot spots. You want heft in a frying pan, you want heft in a knife. Cooking is a physical activity. You can “sing for your supper” all you want, but if you don’t work for it, nothing is going to get to the table.

I look at how many pots I have, how many pans, how many of the 200 or so cookbooks I really use and wonder what I need. The new minimalist in me laughs. However, the new minimalist is battling with the sentimentalist. The sentimentalist remembers that his mother gave him the Connecticut banquet cookbook, which was handed down from her mother. The sentimentalist looks at his impressive array of coil bound church supper cookbooks and wonders when he is ever going to make that upside down cake from Burnt Islands Newfoundland.

If I were on a desert island, what would I take with me? If I seriously decided to clean up the house, what would I give away, bring down to the Sally Ann or just throw out?

Sure the three-foot-long paella pan is impressive, but paella tastes just as good from a frying pan or casserole. And there are some things I have never bought, nor do I want. An espresso machine, for example. I’ll never make it as good as I can get at Café Italia. Similarly, I’ll never make a crème brulée with the perfectly torched topping. That’s why I enjoy eating it at a restaurant.

Too many home kitchens are built for caterers these days. As if Martha Stewart was going to pop in to bake us a coffee cake and we wanted to make sure she would have exactly what she needed. Could Martha get by with a basic set of pots and pans and a few knives? You betcha.

So, the Flavour Guy is evolving (or perhaps devolving) to new minimalism, working with what I have and not buying anything new. Great cooking comes from using everything to its fullest potential, not finding the perfect whisk to beat the egg whites. Besides, if the soufflé falls, we just call it a frittata and bring it out.

Here’s a basic roasted chicken I’ve been making a lot. Start by getting the best chicken you can – free range, organic if possible. It is more expensive but there is a difference in the taste. Let it come to room temperature. Salt and pepper the cavity and skin. Slather duck or goose fat over it. Good butchers carry this.

Now here is the key. If the chicken is small (let’s say 3 pounds, or a kilo and a half) and the oven is standard (about 30 inches), you want high heat and a quick roast at 450F. It will cook in about 40 minutes. If the chicken is bigger (at least 4 pounds or 2 kilos) and the oven is smaller, slow cook it for a couple of hours at 325F. If you have a 6- or 7- pound chicken, cook it at 300F.

That’s the equation. Small chicken, big oven = quick roast. Big chicken, small oven = slow roast. In either case, cook it breast side up and baste every 15 minutes. The fat will crisp the skin and mix with the juices at the bottom of the pan. Use this for basting and later for gravy. Check the inside of the thigh with a thermometer. Take the chicken out when it reaches 170F. Let it rest on a warm platter for 15 minutes before carving.

And, of course, keep the bones for soup.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. You can reach him at



Post a Comment