At the end of a busy working day, I find that the last thing I want to do is think. The whole day has inevitably been about rushing around and trying to fit in too many things, so I just want to come home and have some wonderful fairy deliver a delicious dinner to my table.
The idea of cooking something new can be so fraught. There’s always this vague thought lurking at the back of your mind that it might not work, and then you’ve wasted all this time and money and have nothing to show for it. It becomes all-too-easy to resort to same old, same old (actually most people have a repertoire of just five or six recipes they rotate) or opening packets and pouches to reheat and ‘assemble’. Or, if things are really grim, the takeout button seems like the best option unless you're willing to settle for a toast and honey kind of dinner.
When I came back from the mushroom farm I visited for this episode of my television series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures I brought home some dried mushrooms that were given to me by the mushroom farmer Hannes. Simply by soaking them and then mixing them into my homemade teriyaki sauce, I had the most wonderful brew in which to bake some fresh fish fillets. Since then I’ve tried a similar treatment with chicken and it works equally as fabulously.
Oven-baked fish has to be the quickest and easiest thing to cook when you are tired, with chicken a close second because it takes fractionally longer to cook. Slather your fish fillets or boneless chicken breast or thigh pieces with a glaze or a sauce, pop them into a hot oven and in less than 15 minutes the fish is ready to enjoy, while the chicken will emerge succulent in 20-30 minutes.
The thing about baking dinner in the oven is that you don’t need to be standing there stirring or slicing. It looks after itself, so you can put together a salad, cook some rice and veg, have a glass of wine or help the kids with their homework.
Once you’re on a roll with this way of cooking, you can change out the flavours. Here are some easy ideas:
- Mix some thai sweet chilli sauce with a little lime juice and zest and drizzle this over fish or chicken. For variations on this theme see my recipes for Baked Lemon Grass and Chilli Chicken and Flash-Roasted Salmon with Chilli Lime Glaze.
- Spread the chicken or fish with a dollop of pesto or salsa verde. This one's in an upcoming episode of my new TV series, but if you want the recipe now you'll find it on page 210 of the accompanying book Simple Pleasures.
- Try olive paste or tapenade – see my recipe for Flash-Roasted Fish with Red Pepper Sauce.
- Mix a spoonful of laksa or curry paste with a little yoghurt and spread it over the fish or chicken before baking. This works well with a whole fish too.
- Place the chicken or fish on an oven tray (lined with baking paper first for easy clean-up) and dust with a sprinkle of dukkah or moroccan spice mix.
- Top fish fillets or chicken pieces with a Lemon Caper Crumb.
- Wrap a rasher or two of bacon around each piece of fish or chicken and bake until golden.
What I really like about this kind of cooking is that it’s less about following an actual recipe and more about using whatever combination of ingredients you have to hand. Just choose the best piece of chicken or fish you can lay your hands on, add the topping or sauce and then let the oven do its magic. Add some kind of starch or grain, a salad or some fresh, lightly cooked veges to serve on the side and a stress-free dinner is just minutes away.
I’d love to hear what combinations you come up with – if you make something especially nice why not take a photo and share it on my Pinterest page? Happy cooking!
To see behind-the-scenes photos, recipes, video clips and the menu from this episode see the TV pages of my website.