Articles / One Is The Hungriest Number

One Is The Hungriest Number

Published October 22, 2019

A ton of you have been asking for a newsletter about cooking for one (recipes, strategies, etc). It’s a good topic, and I cannot think of a better person to tackle it than my longtime friend, colleague, and cookbook guru, Kerri Conan. Whether you’re cooking for yourself or for lots of people, when it comes to strategizing and planning day-to-day and week-to-week cooking, Kerri is a master. Here she is.


Newsletter readers and social media friends often ask Mark about the best recipes for eating solo. Turns out he advocates not one, but three approaches: Divide a simple recipe and cook a single serving; make a big batch of something you love that you can portion and freeze successfully; or prepare several versatile components to assemble meals throughout the week.

Mark and company—starting with me, I reckon—will feature examples of each solution over the coming weeks. The idea is to demonstrate how to adapt all sorts of recipes for different situations, so that no matter whether you’re feeding yourself or wowing a crowd (and everything in between) cooking is always satisfying and efficient. That way you’re more likely to do it as often as possible.

Let’s start with dividing the ingredients in a relatively simple recipe and adapting the equipment and technique to cook it as quickly as possible, with minimal mess. Like Glass Noodles with Vegetables and Meat, a new dish from the new 20th Anniversary edition of How to Cook Everything.

I’m choosing this Asian noodle stir-fry for its versatility, even though it’s not as obvious a choice as, say, sautéing a thick pork chop, a salmon steak, or a small steak. Most solo cooks avoid composed dishes because the ingredient list can run a tad long, with some items not necessarily easy to divide. That’s part of this lesson: Mark gives you his blessing to fudge quantities a bit.

Here are a couple general things to keep in mind when solo-izing Mark’s recipes:

-Vary away. You’ve only got yourself to please. There are always options and ideas in the headnotes and ingredient lists to get you started but since (I’m guessing) you’ve got bits and pieces of this and that lying about, feel free to use what you like—and like using all up.

-Check for doneness frequently. Sometimes—but not always—smaller portions of food in smaller pots and pans cooks faster than larger portions. As a general rule, if the ingredients are boiling, roasting, or on the grill or under the broiler, the time remains the same. Sautéed or stir-fried food usually cook faster in smaller quantities. I’ve adjusted the noodle stir-fry recipe accordingly.

-Maximize your ingredients and effort. Mark’s stir-fries usually have a lot more vegetables than meat. This is a perfect example. Go ahead and increase the quantity of protein if you must. Or take the opportunity to make the most of a small remnant of a steak, roast chicken, or chop. For pieces that are already cooked, slice them thinly and warm them in the pan with the mushrooms at the end of Step 3. Or if you’ve only got a larger piece of protein, cook it all with more oil in Step 1 and save the remaining pieces to top a salad or fill a sandwich in a couple days.

-Cook for leftovers. By that I mean think components. You don’t always have to eat the same meal more than once. Take this dish for example: Bundles of sweet potato or bean thread noodles can be tricky—and messy—to divide. You can cut them apart with scissors in a big paper bag. Or cook the whole bundle in Step 4 and guesstimate what you’ll need for tonight. Then save the rest to bring for lunch; it will be terrific in a quick bowl of microwave miso soup; just heat the broth then toss in spinach leaves, tofu cubes, and the leftover cooked noodles.

That’s it for now. We’ll be back soon with the next installment.


Classic Korean japchae is seen more often in restaurants than homes, but it’s easy to make. Since the noodles are best at room temperature, you can make the components up to an hour in advance. Substitute peeled shrimp, salmon fillets, or boneless chicken thighs for the meat, or use tofu slices for a vegetarian version.