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The Zen of Cooking for One : Recipes: A few easy dishes to make again and again and . . .

January 10, 1991|JONATHAN GOLD

And then there are the obsessive bachelors, the ones who score dangerously high on the Minnesota Multiphasic test, who interpret solitude as an excuse to cook the same thing every night. For a time in my bachelorhood, for most of the time of my bachelorhood, I was one of those men. I enjoyed the illusion of having mastered at least one part of my life, and the cooking became as important to my daily ritual as catching the 7:25 Pico bus every morning, or blasting "Pretty Vacant" on the stereo every evening as I brushed my teeth before bed.

For a while it was grilled-cheese sandwiches, made in a thin Teflon pan with seeded Beverlywood corn rye and Jewish munster from the deli next door. I experimented for months with different weights, different lashings of garlic and sweet butter, until I finally achieved a sandwich that was both oozy and perfectly crisp, with a rich garlic flavor and also with a fine mantle of cheese that was crunchy where it had touched the pan and chewy where it hadn't. One sandwich: I never quite got it right again.

After that it was pan-fried steaks, massaged with oil and spices and seared in very hot cast-iron skillets for a few seconds on each side, to a crusty blood-rare. I invariably ate these with well-done O'Brien potatoes hopped up with too much cumin and cayenne: Bachelor chefs are inordinately fond of cumin. I felt very smug when blackened steak became popular a few years later--it was practically my rib-eye.

(I was never quite as fanatical as one man I knew, whose dinner consisted every night of a broiled steak, iceberg lettuce salad with pepperoni and Wishbone Italian, and corn muffins made from a boxed Jiffy Muffin mix that he spiked with walnuts.)

Then it was simple stir-fries copped from "How To Cook and Eat in Chinese," which always started with different ingredients yet always came out tasting the same. I decided that it was the technique that I liked, the slashing and fondling and smelling of ingredients, and the way that the dish would come out the same from day to day, but also subtly different enough to make things interesting. I eventually threw away the recipes and just made the same dish every day, varying the meat and the vegetables but rarely the seasoning or the method.

When company came over, I would make Julia Child's coq au vin --always the coq au vin , never the blanquette de veau or the veal Orloff--along with a romaine lettuce salad dressed with my mother's tarragon vinaigrette and a dessert I'd learned along the way that involved cream, kirschwasser , and wild strawberry Jell-O. But I really preferred the stir-fries.

Nothing, though, compared to my mania for fried rice, made with expensive Chinese sausages when I was flush, and with slab bacon or hot links when I was not. If I had some cold rice sitting around, then cooking was almost as quick as telephoning downstairs to the Pizza Barn across the street, and the ten or so ingredients permitted adjustments as subtle as those I could make with the EQ settings of my stereo amplifier. Fried rice was my private form of Zen.

BACHELOR FRIED RICE

1 clove garlic

1 bit ginger

1 lop cheong sausage

1 green onion

Oil (about 3 tablespoons)

Salt

Dried Japanese chiles

Leftover cold, cooked rice (about 2 cups)

1 egg

Soy sauce

Smash clove of garlic with underside of beer bottle. Trim couple of 1/4-inch slices of ginger and slice to matchstick width. Cut lop cheong into thinnish slices. Chop into 1/2-inch pieces white of green onion and 1 inch or 2 of green.

Heat wok to smoking, and put in oil, then dash of salt, then garlic and ginger. Stir like mad. When garlic starts to color, remove it and the ginger, and throw in a few Japanese chiles, straight out of package. Don't let chiles burn. It's kind of a Zen thing. A few seconds later, toss in the lop cheong, and when the fat starts to melt, scrape in rice, breaking up lumps, and toss.

Beat egg in bowl with few drops of oil and dribble of soy sauce, just enough to turn mixture murky gold. Stir rice every so often. When rice looks done, push it to one side of wok and dribble egg toward center, constantly pulling up cooked part and letting raw stuff have chance to set. When egg mass looks more or less like an omelet, chop with wok utensil and mix into rice. Stir in pieces of green onion. Serve immediately. Makes 1 generous serving.

DESPERATE BACHELOR FRIED RICE

2/3 hot link, Farmer John Louisiana brand

1/2 yellow onion

1 1/2 cups cold cooked rice

Cut hot link into kind of chunky-looking pieces. Chop onion. Fry links in hot wok until a bunch of orange grease appears, then fry the onion until translucent. Toss in rice, stir until cooked and an even orange throughout. Serve with your favorite malt liquor. Makes 1 serving.

ALL-PURPOSE

BACHELOR STIR-FRY

Some frozen meat (steak, pork chop or chicken breast or whatever)

Sherry

Soy sauce

Cornstarch

Garlic

Sugar

Some vegetables

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