The pleasures of solo cooking

We’ve parted ways with Ocado and we’re really rather enjoying the single life: going to bed when we fancy; watching what we want on the telly; choosing our favourite things to eat.  

Turns out we’re not alone, metaphorically speaking. When food writer Diana Henry found herself cooking for one, she says her first response was one of selfish glee. “Nobody told me what to make, I seasoned dishes the way I wanted to, I could yank the chilli up and buy luxurious ingredients. I’m not going to cook scallops for six, but a little plateful just for me. I’d come home – often picking food up on the way – put loud music on, pour wine and get out a pan.

“Cooking isn’t just about feeding a family or a partner. It can be a happy solitary act too.”

Diana Henry

“I love cooking for myself,” enthuses Signe Johansen, food writer and author of Solo: The Joy Of Cooking For One (Bluebird, £16.99). “I can do it according to my likes and dislikes, whereas cooking for others can feel more of a performance."

Recipes from the book include a satisfying croque madame. “It’s not an elegant dish,” says Johansen, “but it’s so tasty with its mixture of cheese, egg and spinach. It feels wholesome but it’s also a little bit indulgent.”

For some, cooking solo is a chance to experiment with flavours their partners aren’t keen on. “I absolutely love anchovies and my wife detests them,” says Dave Wall, head chef of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell. “So they will be the seasoning for sure, perhaps on a simple bowl of pasta laced with chillies, garlic and copious quantities of butter.” 

Chef Nathan Outlaw’s wife Rachel dislikes hot food so he loves to make spicy curries and Thai dishes when she and their teenage kids are away, always using a recipe he’s never tried before. Food writer Phylicia Jackson-Jones takes advantage of husband Steve’s frequent travels to create new recipes, sometimes testing bolder flavours and combinations: “I can take my time when there’s not a hungry man scratching at the kitchen door and I know I won’t be torturing someone else with any failures.” 

For chef Ryan Blackburn of The Old Stamp House in Ambleside, simplicity is key. “For me the best solo dinner has to be mussels with some good bread. I like to cook mine with a spoon of mild curry powder, some mead and cream. Use the bread to mop up the sauce and treat yourself to a glass of Galician Albariño. As this is a one pot dish the washing up is easy too, which is always a bonus!”

“During my research for Solo, I looked on social media to get a sense of just what people felt about cooking for one,” says Johansen. “One of the things that struck me was the amount of people who said, ‘I’m not single, but I really cherish the time when I’m on my own’. So, for me, it’s about doing something for yourself – of nourishing yourself with a good meal and really savouring it.”

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