Paul Flynn: Great meals for people who find themselves cooking for one

A letter from a widower made me think. These meals are for Bill, and others like him

Lamb chops with minty peas and mustard mash. Photograph: Harry Weir

Lamb chops with minty peas and mustard mash. Photograph: Harry Weir

 

I received a touching email recently that really made me reflect. It was from a widower who loves food but finds it a little frustrating that most of my recipes are for four. He hates waste, but also doesn’t want to be eating the same thing over a number of days.

His late wife used to say of him, “He’ll eat anything and enjoy it”, and she bequeathed all her cookery books to him, hoping he would do his best to look after himself.

In his email he asked if it might be possible for me to do recipes to serve one person. Food was important in his house and his late wife was clearly a good cook. She made “gorgeous lamb neck stews”, he wrote. There was a huge void in his life. He was specific: he likes a lot of fresh fish and his tastes are traditional.

Motivating yourself to cook when you’re by yourself is difficult at the best of times. So today I’m writing these recipes for Bill, and everyone who lives alone and likes to cook. Hopefully they will help in some way and give you a little pleasure. They can, of course, also be scaled up to feed bigger numbers.

Lamb chops are easy. You can either use the gigot chops or the fancier loin. The mash is a delicious amalgam, packed with flavour. It’s an ageing gourmand’s joy, and I’m referring to myself here. It should be a little sloppy, so the chops can be dredged through the mash and slurped unapologetically.

I love hake, and I love asparagus almost as much. It’s readily available in supermarkets for many months of the year, although the air-mile watchers might protest. I’m choosing thin ones here, so they cook at the same time as the fish. Use another white fish if you can’t find hake. It’ll be lovely with an old-fashioned tartare sauce.

The chicken recipe is also a one-pot dish. What lifts it out of the ordinary is the sauce, with smoked paprika and Parmesan – it will make even the most pedestrian chicken interesting. A little rice would be lovely with this to soak up the luxurious sauce.

LAMB CHOPS WITH MINTY PEAS AND MUSTARD MASH

Serves one

Lamb chops with minty peas and mustard mash. Photograph: Harry Weir
Lamb chops with minty peas and mustard mash. Photograph: Harry Weir

Ingredients
2 large potatoes, peeled and halved
A drizzle of sunflower oil
2-3 lamb chops
100g petit pois, defrosted
100ml milk
A generous knob of butter
1tsp English mustard
1tsp mint jelly
Salt and pepper

Method
1 Put the potatoes on to boil with a little salt.

2 Meanwhile season the chops, heat the oil in a pan until gently smoking, then carefully add the chops.

3 Cook for five minutes on both sides and then if you can, perch them on the fatty side for a couple of minutes to crisp the fat.

4 Remove the chops from the pan and keep them warm, while you turn your attention to the potatoes.

5 At almost the last minute, add the peas to the potatoes and continue to cook. Ensure they are not boiling for very much longer or they will lose their colour.

6 Drain well, then put everything back into the pot and mash with the milk, butter, salt and pepper. You may need to use a little more milk to get the required texture.

7 When you’re happy with the consistency, add the mustard and mint jelly, then serve on a warm plate beside your lamb chops.

HAKE WITH ASPARAGUS, NEW POTATOES AND LEMON

Serves one

Hake with asparagus, new potatoes and lemon. Photograph: Harry Weir
Hake with asparagus, new potatoes and lemon. Photograph: Harry Weir

Ingredients
1 bunch of thin asparagus
4 baby potatoes, cooked, peeled and halved
50ml olive oil
30ml water
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
A sprig of thyme or rosemary (optional)
140g fillet of hake, skinned and pin-boned
Salt and pepper

Method
1 Preheat your oven to 185 degrees.

2 Trim the bottom third from the asparagus and discard it.

3 Put the tips on a roasting tray along with the cooked potatoes, olive oil, water, garlic, lemon and herbs.

4 Place the fish on top and turn in the olive oil mixture, then season with salt and pepper.

5 Bake in the oven for 12 minutes or so – the time will always depend on the thickness of your fish. If you feel it needs a little more time, just pop it back in the oven for a minute or so.

CHICKEN WITH RED PEPPERS AND SMOKY PARMESAN CREAM

Serves one

Chicken with red peppers and smoky Parmesan cream. Photograph: Harry Weir
Chicken with red peppers and smoky Parmesan cream. Photograph: Harry Weir

Ingredients
A drizzle of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
150ml of cream
½tsp smoked paprika
1tbs grated Parmesan
1 chicken fillet, skin on if possible
Salt and pepper

Method
1 Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.

2 Take a small oven-proof frying pan and add the olive oil, garlic and red peppers.

3 Cook gently for five minutes or so to soften the peppers.

4 Take a small bowl and add the cream, smoked paprika and Parmesan, then whisk together.

5 Set the chicken on top of the peppers and pour the creamy mixture over, then season.

6 Bake the chicken for 18-20 minutes. Don’t be afraid to cut into the chicken to check that it is fully cooked. The sauce should be thick and bubbling and the chicken moist and tender.

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