Now Jamie says he can get the job done in 15 minutes
So you think you're quick in the kitchen? You reckon getting your evening meal on the table in half-an-hour is an achievement? Well, think again -- it's time to sharpen up your culinary act.
The campaigning chef Jamie Oliver has his sights set on your cooking speed. His next book, out later this year, follows his hugely successful 30 Minute Meals, and aims to get your dinner done and dusted in just 15 minutes.
Jamie's 30 Minute Meals did not succeed without controversy. It sold a colossal 1.7 million copies in hardback, but also attracted much criticism from those who said the 30-minute time frame was unrealistic for the average cook. So how will his 15 Minute Meals fare?
In the competitive world of cookery publishing, "quick" cooking is not just an appetising concept, but the holy grail, the zenith that all are seeking; give 'em speedy recipes, and book-buyers will drool all over it.
The first food writer to latch on to the speedy genre was Nigel Slater, with his Real Fast Food book. First published in 1992, this was a collection of everyday recipes that could be made in an average of 20 minutes.
Also a bestseller, it was the first to dispel the kitchen-shy's "I'm too-busy" excuse. Many cooks have followed in Slater's footsteps, and have reaped the financial rewards for doing so.
But I believe that our appetite for "quick" food gradually undermines the pleasures of slow. A liking for slow is an admission of having time on your hands.
Today, that is an almost dirty little confession. Look what you could, or should be, doing instead of cooking, the speed-freaks whisper. Cooks that can indulge in making a hand-raised pie for Saturday lunch are idle, good-for-nowts, they suggest, people who do not live in the real world.
I would argue that we should be kinder to our kitchen tortoises. One person's quick foray into cooking is another's long journey to the moon. Most cookbooks that hint at speed also promise that their tasks will be "easy".
Just because something is quick does not mean it is also easy. Unless you can chop like a lesser-spotted woodpecker and organise your ingredients cupboard with the forward-mindedness of a general, you might still be there watching the pot an hour later.
And quick-to-make recipes have shortcomings: they often call for more expensive ingredients. A slowly simmering stew pan is the place to put the cheap cuts. Tough forequarter pieces of meat needing an age to break down to a succulent tender chew, and which come with the glories of gelatinous gravy, do not generally do well if flash-fried in the grill pan.
Fillets of chicken, the prime cuts of beef or lamb, exotic raw prawns and fish exist at the pricey end of the shopping list. Admittedly, yes, you can buy tins of pulses or beans that will work on a tight schedule, and pasta is cheap -- though neither pasta nor rice dishes can be prepared in much less than 20 minutes.
One of my quick and economical kitchen cheats is to buy cheap cuts of meat, such as chicken thighs (boned), trimmed skirt steak or pork neck fillet, and slice them across the grain before attacking the slices with a meat hammer until they become thin escalopes. These can be fried almost instantly and are tender to eat (just).
For meals to be truly quick, while also being affordable, you need to invest in some long-term planning. Take an hour or so to make fresh meat stock at the weekend, or cook up some tomatoes with basil, garlic and olive oil and simmer for 45 minutes.
Once the stock is strained, or the sauce puréed, it can be dipped into throughout the week to make pilafs and curries in an instant.
Despite all this, we should applaud Jamie's attempts to get shy cooks back into the kitchen. The 15 Minute Meals book may lead to some very late dinners, as newbies struggle with chopping, but as long as Jamie gets people cooking, we shouldn't moan.
After all, people who have no time to cook are those most likely to buy convenience food. If prep overruns, it is unlikely they would abandon the meal-making and call Domino's -- at least, I hope not.
Indeed, many of Nigel Slater's first keen followers will surely have become devoted cooks, thanks to that initial temptation into the kitchen.
Now, 20 years on, Slater can probably ask his followers to make chicken glazed in aspic, decorated with dainty angelica flowers, and they would slavishly comply.
If the '15 Minute' craze takes off, as it surely will, we should know this: the most memorable kitchen adventures are the ones that take time. A meal that consumes body and soul in preparation cannot help but be recalled months, even years, later.
A few hours spent nursing the pot containing bollito misto (boiled meats) is well worth the splendid moment when the serving dish arrives at the table. The scent of the slow-cooked dish has invaded the home. Your guests' noses lift with curious pleasure when they come through the door.
This smells like a house that says, we made time to cook for you. When the lid is lifted, everyone gasps -- and you are permitted to feel a bit of pride.
We are too hung up on time. There is no rule that says cooking should be so far down the list of home pursuits that we feel offended when asked to spend more time doing it.
If anything, the aspiration to spend more time on it, not less, should be selling books. When Jamie Oliver brings out a book called 15 Hour Feasts, we will know the balance has been struck.