Nigel Slater: simple enough for me?

The TV chef helped clueless cook Jacqueline Wheeler discover how to be queen of her kitchen

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Things that I struggle with in cooking: getting ingredients, preparing ingredients, any kind of activity thereafter that doesn’t involve just sticking it all in a pot and heating for 15 minutes.

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Even my daughters – both under ten – step in and take over if they spot me with a saucepan in my hand.

I need Nigel Slater, or I think I do. He’s the man who likes to combine the words “cooking” and “simple”.  But does he mean it?

I approached Nigel Slater’s Simple Cooking with caution. I wasn’t going to be happy if I needed a passport to get the ingredients.

Well, break open the balsamic – these recipes are so straightforward they can be reduced to about ten words on a post-it note, as indeed they are during the show.

If you think you’ve missed anything, the instructions appear on a natty little label attached to a kitchen jar at the end of each programme segment. Press pause on BBC iPlayer and it’s a matter of seconds to jot them down.

Nigel’s approach is to get back to what must be the very essence of cookery – the way in which different flavours work together to excite our taste buds.

The first episode of the new series, subtitled Sweet and Sour, began not with Oriental delicacies but, unexpectedly, with Nigel’s thoughts on Sunday roast. 

Explaining that the meat is the rich, fatty “sweet” element and the “knife-sharp” sauce the “sour”, he described how he’d arrived at a delicious weekday version of the meal that could be knocked up in a fraction of the time.

The dish: butter, oil, pork, gooseberries, wine vinegar and a touch of sugar to taste. Really, that’s it. No quantities because – and this is nicely empowering for those who usually need an instruction manual to boil an egg – you are at liberty to make the recipe your own.

Like all the recipes in the programme, the pork and gooseberry meal is almost impossible to mess up, so it’s down to you how much or little of the ingredients you add.

There was a worrying moment when Nigel brought in friends Van and Ahn to demonstrate a Vietnamese dish. Until that point, I’d been cruising in the comfort zone of fish and veg tossed into baking tins and parked in the oven.

But Van and Ahn showed how you could impress – if not astonish – friends and family with quick to make fishy parcels and a simple but delicious accompanying sauce.

This series could be a beginner’s course in cookery; a beginner on a budget at that. The focus on flavours frees you from the tyranny of the recipe book and gives you the confidence to try new things.

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In a nutshell, Nigel Slater’s Simple Cooking does exactly what it says on the tin.