We received a slow cooker as a wedding gift back in 2001. It sat in its box for a few years before I decided to give it a try. I had a book of slow cooker recipes, mostly for rather uninspiring stew-like things.
Norman found a better recipe book in a local bookstore, and I began to get more into the spirit of things. Still, it always bothered me that so many involved complicated prep. I wanted one of two things from my slow cooker. Either it should be possible to bung stuff in with minimal prep and eat it later, or it should make things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be possible or would be much more difficult.
I found the answer to the latter requirement in slow-cooker cannelloni. I like cannelloni, but it’s a pain to make. But by modifying a recipe in the book, I found that you can stuff dry tubes with ricotta and spinach, put them in the bottom of the slow cooker, smother with diced or pulverized tomatoes from a tin, throw in a bit of oregano, and leave them for a couple of hours. That worked.
I was having more difficulty with the former type of recipe. Most called for stuff to be cooked before it went in. Well, if I’m going to do all that work on the stovetop, what’s the point of the slow cooker?
The other day at the market, we were chatting with the woman who works at the new butcher shop near the entrance. (She used to work at another market stall, but when one of the guys who worked with her opened his own business, she went to work for him. In her previous job, she was rather grumpy and now she is clearly happier and often stops to chat.) She suggested we try some short ribs. She said she browned them a bit and cooked them in the oven in beer for a couple of hours. It sounded like something one could try in the slow cooker.
So we bought two sets of short ribs, cut them each in half, and browned them. Into the slow cooker they went, with a large can of beer mixed with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, some onions cut in quarters, and a couple of bay leaves. Five hours later we ate them and they were wonderful.
Today I am trying a pork shoulder. I didn’t even brown it first. I don’t think it will matter much. I’ve given it the same beer-mustard-onion-bay-leaf treatment and so far, it smells wonderful. If all goes according to plan, I will shred the meat into a version of pulled pork and serve it with barbeque sauce.
Anyway, here is what I am starting to understand about slow cookers.
1. Meat works better if it has bones in it. After a few hours, the meat falls off the bones anyway, but things like boneless chicken breasts never get the same consistency.
2. Beer is really good for tenderizing meat and doesn’t taste beery when the cooking process is complete.
3. It is possible to do minimal prep for maximal effect.