Your New Pasta Hack, Quick-Braised Fish with Black Bean Sauce, and Moroccan Chicken in a Flash

Shit! What's For Dinner? #2

Thanks for visiting The Bittman Project, a place where food is everything (or pretty close).

It’s inevitable: Some days you haven’t planned anything to cook, the afternoon sneaks up on you, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say, “Shit! What’s for dinner?” For those times when you just need something fast, easy, and tasty, we’ve got you covered. Here are three recipes to help you navigate this week.

Quick-Braised Fish Fillets in Black Bean Sauce

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

When you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to braise a whole fish, try this simpler, faster version; the flavors are much the same. Serve this over rice.


  • Peanut or neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed, for frying

  • 1/4 cup fermented black beans

  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine, dry sherry, or water

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 1/2 pounds white fish fillets

  • Salt and black pepper to taste

  • 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 4 scallions, trimmed and roughly chopped

  • 1 large onion, sliced

  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (drained canned are fine)

  • Soy sauce to taste


1. Pour about 1/8 inch of oil into a wide, deep skillet, preferably nonstick. Place over medium-high heat. Soak the beans in the wine. Mix the flour with enough water to make a paste the consistency of sour cream. Season the fish with salt and pepper.

2. When the oil is hot—it will shimmer, and a pinch of flour tossed into it will sizzle—coat the fillets with the batter and brown them quickly, about 2 minutes per side. You may have to work in batches; do not crowd the fish. As you finish browning, transfer it to a plate. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool down a bit, then discard the oil and wipe out the pan.

3. Put 2 tablespoons oil in the pan and turn the heat to high. A minute later, add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, just until it begins to soften. Turn the heat to medium and add the tomatoes and the black beans and their liquid. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, just until the tomatoes begin to break up.

4. Return the fish to the pan (now it’s OK to crowd) and continue to cook until it is done, about 5 minutes more (a thin-bladed knife inserted into the center will meet little resistance). Taste and add soy sauce if the dish is not salty enough; serve the fillets with the sauce over rice.

-Recipe from The Best Recipes In The World

One-Pot Pasta With Butter and Parmesan

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 25 minutes

Instead of boiling pasta and making the sauce separately, you add liquid incrementally to toasted pasta until it’s tender—yes, like risotto, which in fact can be mimicked quite effectively if you use orzo. The starch in thick orecchiette or shells encourages a creamy sauce; breaking long strands into thirds or fourths delivers more contrasting textures. The cooking time and absorption rate might vary a bit, so be sure to add the water a little at a time and check frequently for doneness.


  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

  • 1 small onion or large shallot, chopped

  • 1 pound any pasta

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or water

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving


1. Put 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. When it is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, about 3 minutes. Add the pasta, raise the heat a bit, and cook, stirring constantly, until it’s glossy and smells toasty, about a minute. Add a little salt and pepper, then the wine, and stir.

2. Let the liquid bubble away. Begin to add water, 1/2cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When the liquid is just about absorbed, add more. The noodles should
be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat at medium to medium-high, stir frequently, and repeat as necessary.

3. Begin tasting the pasta 10 minutes after you added it; it should be tender but have some resistance when you bite. (It could take as long as 20 minutes to reach this stage.) When the pasta is ready, stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan, adding a little more water if necessary to coat the noodles in sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve right away, passing more Parmesan at the table.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised 20th Anniversary Edition

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Cutlets with Chickpeas and Dried Fruit

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 Minutes

It takes forever to make a tagine, but you can infuse all the same warm Moroccan flavors into this simple two-step sauté and get it done in a flash.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)

  • 2 teaspoons cumin

  • 1 teaspoon coriander

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas (one 15-ounce can)

  • 1 cup dried apricots

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

  • Several sprigs fresh parsley for garnish


1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.

  • Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 2 thin cutlets for each breast. Press down on each with the heel of your hand to flatten.

2. Combine 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spices all over the chicken.

3. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the cutlets to the skillet (you’ll need to work in batches). Cook the cutlets, rotating them occasionally and adjusting the heat so they sizzle but don’t burn, until the spices are nicely browned, 3 or 4 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side until the chicken is cooked through, another 3 or 4 minutes.

4. As each piece is done, transfer it to the oven to keep warm; continue cooking the remaining cutlets, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

  • If you’re using canned chickpeas, rinse and drain them. Chop 1 cup dried apricots.

5. When all the cutlets are cooked and warming in the oven, add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar to the skillet, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the chickpeas and apricots, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until warmed through, 3 or 4 minutes.

  • Strip the parsley leaves from several sprigs and chop.

6. When the chickpeas and apricots are warm, stir in most of the parsley, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve with the chicken, garnished with the remaining parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

-Recipe from How To Cook Everything Fast