How Anita Lo Cooks for One
In anticipation of her new book, Solo, A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One, the NYC chef shares tricks from the restaurant kitchen that she uses at home.
Anita Lo, the former chef and owner of NYC’s now closed but Michelin-starred Annisa, has been spending a lot more time in her own kitchen these days, thanks, in no small part, to her second cookbook, which goes on sale October 30. Titled Solo, A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One, it was inspired by her memories growing up and her adventures traveling.
For some, it may come as a surprise that one of they city’s greatest restaurant chefs, used to feeding the masses night after night, wrote a book all about cooking solo. But for Lo, it just made sense. “For me, [cooking for one is] easier in that when you’re cooking for yourself, you don’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of time in the kitchen. I try to be conscientious of how many pots I’m using, how much time it takes, how much waste, how to keep your ingredients. I never want to waste anything,” Lo says.
Whether you’re turning last night’s sesame tofu sauce into mapo eggplant tofu for tomorrow’s lunch, as Lo did after a recent dinner party, or starting a recipe from scratch, the secret to cooking from the book is thinking about balance and flavor. “There are a lot of one-pot dishes, but there are also easy sides you can make [into] a balanced meal,” says Lo. “What’s important to me is that it tastes good.”
The benefit of cooking solo, says Lo, is that you can get “exactly what you want to eat and eat the way you want without any judgment” — whether that’s standing over the sink in your sweats or for Lo, eating with your cat. “I love eating with other people, don’t get me wrong,” says Lo. But “on some level, it’s easy just to cook for yourself.”
So how has time spent in some of NYC’s most in-demand restaurants influenced what this chef is cooking on her own time? “I’ve learned a lot more tricks as a chef and I’ve traveled more and I know more about food cultures around the world. And that’s all very welcome.” (When this aclaimed chef is not cooking at home, you can catch her leading small, intimate culinary excursions in countries around the world with Tour de Forks.)
Lo hopes to break down the wall for people who don’t know how to cook smaller meals for one or two people. Even though ordering takeout can seem like the easiest option in some places, cooking at home is “cheaper and healthier,” says Lo. There’s also an intrinisic value. “People think it’s too much of a pain in the ass...but there’s a joy in it,” says Lo. “For me, it makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, accomplishing something. It’s immediate satisfaction.”
Here are six tips for cooking solo in your own kitchen from chef Anita Lo.
1. Always Keep a Jar of Calabrian Chilies on Hand
Chef Lo says these suckers changed her life. “Ok, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but food is my life, and adding them to my arsenal of ingredients has expanded my culinary horizons,” says Lo. Rich with olive oil and slightly acidic from fermentation, they add a soulful, savory base that wakes up the palate, as well as the other ingredients. Use them in stews, on pizza, with fish and shellfish and, of course, in pasta.
2. Devote One Day to Making Dumplings
Sure, it’s a little time consuming, but you’ll be rewarded with a well-balanced home-cooked meal in a plump little package that can be ready in minutes for upcoming nights when you don’t feel like cooking. (The recipe in the book makes enough for excellent leftovers for your freezer.) Bonus: the folding is a meditative exercise. For each dumpling, think of all the good things you want for the future. Shape dumplings and your life.
3. Use Leftover Greens to Make Pesto
Not sure what to do with excess broccoli rabe or other bitter greens? Make pesto, which can be frozen for later use. Just place in a sealed container with a thin layer of oil on top to prevent freezer burn.
4. Braise Meat in Bulk
If you have slow cooker, you can start in the morning, and a dish like short ribs can be ready by the time you get home from work. Braised meats are even better the next day, so you can refrigerate or freeze leftovers in braising liquid and use them for multiple meals.
5. The Toaster Oven Is Your Friend
Nothing beats a real oven for consistent and accurate heat retention. But for small tasks, this piece of equipment shouldn’t be overlooked, and you can even buy models with convection capabilities. Also, they’re great for making small desserts. You can use her recipe for “The Only Crumble Topping You’ll Ever Need When Baking for Yourself” to make at least four different desserts, and never even turn on your oven.
6. Organize Your Freezer!
Keep the oldest items at the top or in the front. Label and date everything. Keep like items together. Lo likes to put cooked items on upper shelves and raw ingredients on the bottom; that way you don’t risk chicken juice dripping onto something you might reheat and eat. Group ingredients by type, lightest to darkest: vegetables to one side, followed by fish and shellfish, then chicken, duck, pork, beef, lamb and game. Organize cooked foods in a similar fashion. Freeze in useable portions. Finally, the best chefs are insanely anal—they love charts. So keep a log of what’s in your freezer and cross items out as you use them.