In case you haven’t noticed, slow cooker recipes are the latest trend in the cookbook trade.So there’s no problem finding recipes.The problem lies in choosing a couple to actually make.While a lot of that choosing is a matter of personal taste, here’s one thing I’ve learned specific to slow cooker recipes:
Look for recipes that take advantage of a slow cooker’s advantages.
Obviously, if you wanted to make chicken stew, you wouldn’t turn to your countertop grill.Similarly, you wouldn’t turn to your slow cooker for crispy grilled chicken.That’s because specialized kitchen appliances all have their tradeoffs.In other words, being really good at one thing makes it not so good for other things.
Slow cookers, for instance, are really good for:
- Cooking the heck out of tough characters like stew meat and dried beans, transforming them into melt-in-your mouth goodness.
- Hands-off cooking, i.e., being able to throw everything in a pot in the morning and forget about it until dinnertime.It’s probably no coincidence that slow cookers became popular when women started working outside the home all day.
The downside of a slow cooker, of course, is that dishes can come out pretty mushy, especially if they include delicate things like sweet peppers, zucchini, asparagus and chicken breasts.
So when you’re looking for slow cooker recipes, don’t fight the machine.Look for recipes with ingredients that require long cooking times, that can be thrown together and left alone, and where a certain amount of “mushing” is not a huge issue.Think classics like pot roasts, stews, soups, chilis and other bean dishes.
This all sounds so self-evident.Why do I even write about it?Because it’s easy to get tripped up by what I call “gourmet slow cooker recipes.”Lately I’ve noticed that many of the newer slow cook recipes have become quite innovative:ethnic chicken dishes, risottos, Cornish game hens, poached salmon, banana cakes.I got all excited about them—until I saw the cooking times:2 hours on HIGH; 4-5 hours on LOW; or LOW 4 hours then HIGH for 30 minutes.
What happened to the “fix it and forget about it” principle?
Here’s my theory:Remember that slow cooker collections are the latest growth category in the cookbook trade?That means a lot of new recipes have to be developed .Necessarily, authors are getting creative, and the tradeoff for more flair is less “fix-it-and-forget-it.”
So as you scout for slow cooker recipes, be mindful of cooking times.If the slow cooker makes good meals feasible because you can turn it on in the morning and walk out the door, then watch out for dishes with odd cooking times.They are better for people who work out of the home or for weekends.
Even if you fall in these categories, it’s worth questioning whether slow cooking is the best option for certain foods like chicken breasts, fish and some of the more tender foods.They are so great cooked fast on the grill or stovetop, why bother using a very slow pot that you can’t control very well?What’s more, cooking them to be moist and succulent requires close watching over their cooking minutes.Achieving such delicious exactitude with a hard-to-control slow cooker would be tedious, if not impossible.
So in my search for slow cooker recipes, I am leery of ones that treat the slow cooker like a glorified stove top pot, since that leaves me suspended in a funny limbo, with a meal that can neither be left alone all day nor cooked in one fell swoop before dinner.
Does this mean those recipes are bad or that I won’t ever use them?Not at all.I’m sure the recipes are delightful, but I will only choose one for my slow cooker repertoire if it benefits my cooking schedule and makes a good meal easier to get on the table.In other words, I’m looking for recipes that take advantage of the slow cooker’s advantages!
Filed under: Cooking, Equipment, Organization in the Kitchen, Recipes | Tagged: Advantages and Disadvantages of Slow Cookers and Crockp, Crockpots, Finding Good Recipes, Fix It and Forget It, Gourmet Slow Cooker Recipes, Slow Cookers, Specialized Kitchen Appliances, What are Crockpots and Slow Cookers Good For | 1 Comment »