Frozen food can be good, says British chef Jamie Oliver

British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver uses these ingredients in wallet-friendly dishes

Jamie Oliver shows how to prepare hearty meals on a shoestring budget.
Jamie Oliver shows how to prepare hearty meals on a shoestring budget. PHOTO: TLC

Most chefs would never think of cooking with stale bread, frozen peas and meats, and leftover food.

However, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, 40, embraces these unglamorous ingredients to whip up dishes that are both wallet and palate-friendly.

He makes chunky cheese-flavoured croutons from stale bread to mop up a dish of smoky barbecued baked beans and sweet potatoes, and Cajun fishcakes from frozen salmon and prawns.

These nifty and thrifty recipes are in the second season of his budget cooking television programme, Save With Jamie, which airs on cable network TLC from tomorrow.

Speaking to Life in a phone interview from London, he says: "As chefs, we would never normally talk about frozen fish or vegetables because it's not cool or prestigious. But the reality is that at home, I am not a chef, I'm a dad, and nutrition and the technology of freezing is really fantastic."

Cooking with frozen foods is one way he shows that hearty and nutritious meals can be rustled up on a shoestring budget in the six-episode series.

It features "multicultural and experimental" meals that cost less than $5 a person. They span cuisines such as Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese and British. Dishes include pork belly with piri piri sauce, chicken and chorizo paella, and aubergine dhal with rice and chapatti.

Besides his cooking shows such as The Naked Chef and Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, Oliver has written cookbooks and owns more than 50 Jamie's Italian restaurants worldwide, including two in Singapore at VivoCity and Forum The Shopping Mall. He says that the second season of Save With Jamie features more vegetarian dishes, from curries to stir-fries. He avoids eating meat two or three days a week.

"It cuts your food budget by a third because meat is b***** expensive," he says. "Cheap meat is not a sexy thing. If you're going to eat meat, you're much better eating higher quality meat and less of it."

The father of four, who is a well-known advocate of healthy food in school canteens, hopes his children can follow in his footsteps.

He says that getting children to have their greens is crucial as they get bombarded with advertisements for "sugary sweetened drinks, sweets and sh**** foods".

"It is important to make them delicious and have regular rhythms of salads and salsas on the dining table."

Oliver is married to Jools, 40, a fashion entrepreneur. Their kids are Poppy, 13, Daisy, 12, Petal, six, and Buddy, four.

In each episode of Save With Jamie, he presents five recipes which are peppered with tips on getting more bang for your buck, from investing in food storage areas to savvy grocery shopping.

One of them is opting for frozen food, which some people think is inferior to fresh ingredients. However, he begs to differ, saying that freezing technology has been misunderstood.

"Freezing has got a bad reputation because we've spent 30 years freezing c****y meat products."

He believes that a freezer can be the best friend of time-strapped home cooks as the technology helps to preserve the nutritional content of foods.

"When it comes to vegetables and fish in supermarkets, unless they are in season, they are regularly of low quality."

He points out that one of the most overused ingredients in the show is frozen peas as "they're so delicious and it's always good to ramp up the veggies".

Oliver also says that some of the world's most delicious meals come from people who live in financially challenged backgrounds.

He cites "some of the most incredible Indian dishes on the planet that cost a pence" as examples of being clever in using the whole animal or cooking in season.

"Food can be beautiful and delicious, but also exciting even if you're working to a budget," he says. "The most valuable commodity is not necessarily money, but knowledge."

• The second season of Save With Jamie premieres tomorrow on TLC (StarHub Channel 427) at 9pm and is on every Tuesday at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Stale bread, frozen peas, why not?'. Subscribe