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Juggling a Lot Right Now? Cook Slow, Not Fast

Juggling a Lot Right Now? Cook Slow, Not Fast

By Maggie Hoffman, Maggie Hoffma, The Editors Of Epicurious, Joe Sevier, Kendra Vaculin, David Tamarkin

I’ve lost track of how many days it’s been since the schools closed and the time that was once spent editing and writing (and trying to settle into a city we’d just moved to) shifted to blurry hours and weeks working remotely, taking shifts conjuring art projects out of egg cartons and reading The Magic School Bus Butterfly Battle over and over to our almost five-year-old. But I do know this: I’ve been cooking wrong the entire time.

When we started self-isolating, I couldn’t keep up: with the teetering stack of dishes, with my daughter’s inclination to anoint every floorboard (and every crack between floorboards) with glitter, with my friends who were really getting into baking sourdough. So I made a schedule, like any efficient editor would. I divided the day’s childcare in two, alerted my husband to his afternoon assignment, and filled work into all the other hours, giving myself 15 minutes to make dinner. Done.

You guys, it didn’t work. While there are a handful of things you can cook in 15 minutes or less (for example, this wondrous concoction made from a whole can of beans, this dregs-of-the-jar peanut sauce for noodles, a quick broccolini and sausage skillet), most recipes deemed “quick” require that you’re actively cooking for 20 minutes or more, paying attention to whatever’s sizzling in the pan and not attending to your kid’s princess tea party or the Slack questions pinging in from a coworker (or both).

No need to brown the chicken legs for this chicken simmered in coconut milk. Photo by Marcus Nilsson, Prop Styling by Amy Wilson, Food Styling by Frances Boswell

I’d forgotten this fact until a box of meat landed on my doorstep last week. I subscribed to a monthly butcher box from The J&E General for a few reasons, but the most valuable aspect may have been that some of the cuts included in my first box required braising. As spring blooms and winged seeds start bombarding the sidewalk outside our window, braising feels a bit weird. But when undistracted time—and real focus—is in short supply, the answer isn’t whipping dinner together on the fly. It’s putting a pot on low and walking away.

If you’re able to be at home right now, a few minutes of mellow prep early in the morning can yield a braise that’ll feed you for days. And the aromas of hands-off, slow cooking have the added bonus of reminding you to stop and breathe, to take a break from worrying about dinner. Your nose can tell that the cooking is already happening, and that the meal is going to be good.

When undistracted time is in short supply, the answer isn’t whipping dinner together on the fly. It’s putting a pot on low and walking away.

There were two lamb shanks in that first box. I realized they would tenderize in a little more than four hours, which was just about ideal timing. I could throw them in the pot while my daughter ate lunch, skipping the usual step of carefully browning each shank. (Sometimes, I’ve learned, the perfect is the enemy of the fed.)