Slow Cookery

How I learned to live with a slow cooker.

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Bean and Seafood Stew
Slow Cooker Pollo Pulquero
New England Boiled (NOT) Dinner
Is slow cooking, cooking?

Beans
I was standing at the Rancho Gordo stand at the Farmers Market taking in the array of, gosh, 15 or more bean varieties and I asked the bean lady, “What’s the bean of the day?”

“Runner Cellini are just in, I made the best seafood stew the other day, Put the beans and a can of clams with their juice in your slow cooker, and cook them for six hours on high. You don’t even have to soak the beans. With about an hour to go, throw in a pack of Trader Joe’s seafood mix. Devine.”

“Do you always do your beans in a slow cooker?” I asked.

“I do now, it’s so easy, six hours, no soak.”

Wow.

The next day, I went to Macy’s and got me a slow cooker, an actual Crock Pot, 5 quart. Ready to go.

Here’s what I did. I call it Bean and Seafood Stew.

1 onion chopped
3 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 pound runner cellini beans
7 cups water (to cover by about an inch)
1 can clams with juice (put in after 40 minutes, had to go get ‘em.)
6 sea scallops
10 Cedar Key clams (a variety of cherrystones)
1/4-pound catfish fillet, cut up

I put the vegetables in the slow cooker, gave them a stir. Washed the beans and picked over them (there’s never a bad bean or stone in Rancho Gordo beans), spread those evenly on top of the vegetables. Turned on the slow cooker to high, and set my timer for 6 hours.
With an hour to go, I added the clams in their shells.
With half-an-hour to go, I added the shrimp, scallops and catfish, salt and pepper.

Overall, it was very good. The beans were perfect. The onions and celery had disintegrated, and I didn’t find any fish pieces, but the flavors were there. The shrimp and scallops were a bit overcooked. Next time, I’ll stir them in right at the end and let them cook in the residual heat of the stew for 5 or 10 minutes.

So, my first ever experience with a slow cooker was pretty successful. I must say, I was kind of afraid of the beast. Once started, I was afraid to touch it until I put the clams in (I guess that’s the point).

Enthused by this experience, I decided to try a dish that had recently appeared in the Rancho Gordo blog (March 1).

Slow Cooker Pollo Pulquero

Here’s what Steve had to say.

“I’ve kept Slow Cookers (Crock Pots) around for years, almost exclusively for beans. I have horrible memories of flabby roasts from the 1970s that just won’t quit. But I’ve been working my way through Rick Bayless’ latest book, Mexican Everyday, and thought I’d give his slow cooker recipes a try and I have to say they are great. Pollo Pulquero is easy. I’ve made it three times and it’s a pretty fool proof recipe. The quantities called for by Bayless made my Crock Pot almost overflow so I’m going to give you the gist and you can adjust to what seems right for you. In the pot, layer 1 sliced onion, some salt, sliced Red Bliss potatoes, salt, skinless chicken thighs (bone in or not, but the sauce will be better bone-in), salt, a huge bunch of cilantro, sliced tomatillos, salt, sliced jarred jalapeño slices and some of the pickling juice. Cover and cook on high for about 6 hours.”

Here’s what I did with my 5 quart Crock Pot:

1 sliced onion covered the bottom.
3 Kennebunk potatoes made about 2 layers on top of the onion
6 bone-in Foster Farms thighs (1 pack) (skinned them myself) fit nicely in one layer.
1 bunch of Safeway cilantro, chopped-from-the-top made a generous layer of green.
4 sliced tomatillos covered the cilantro
And on my half I put a layer of Mezzetta Deli-sliced Tamed Jalapeno Peppers (the wife is sensitive to heat, although these jalapenos brought the flavor without the heat).

Too bad the Crock Pot isn’t clear, so we could see the layers from the side. I cooked it on high for six hours, could have been less. Yum! Carol loved it, took the LO for lunch. That’s the acid test!

New England Boiled (NOT) Dinner

nebd_plated.jpgEmboldened by two slow cooker recipes from others, I struck out on my own. This being the Saint Patrick’s Day zone, Niman Ranch had three-pound pieces of corned beef brisket at the Market. (So did Marin Sun Farms, but I passed Niman’s stall first.)

We love corned beef, and it’s hard to find at other times of the year. “I can do that in the slow cooker,” I said to self. Not much inspiration needed here, I simply referred to my New England Boiled Dinner treatise from last March in eatsforone.

Using James Beard as my guide, I put my corned beef in the Crock Pot, covered it with cold salted water, added a whole, peeled onion stuck with three cloves, 8 large peeled garlic cloves and a tablespoon of cracked peppercorns. I put in about a quart of water — enough to cover the onion — put on the lid and turned the cooker to high. I set my timer for four hours.

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At the ding, I stuck the meat with a paring knife. It went through the meat, but didn’t exactly slide through the meat. Another hour should do it; and it did.

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To go with, we roasted parsnips, carrots, potatoes and spring onions for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees in the oven. I had some spectacular little Napa cabbages from the Market and threw those in boiling, salted water for about 4 minutes. Perfect.

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I’ll put that meal up against anything and give it 4 Yums. Yum Yum Yum Yum.

That’s three slow cooker meals, each successful. But there’s something that bothers me.

Is slow cooking, cooking?

In The Reach of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman notes that,

“,cooking is a physical manipulation of actual materials. Touch and feel account for at least half the information you absorb when making a dish.”

In the very first paragraph of the very first chapter of James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, entitled Good Cooking Needs Good Tools, he writes,

Cooking starts with your hands, the most important and basic of all implements. They were the earliest tools for the preparation of food, and they have remained one of the most efficient, sensitive, and versatile. Hands can beat, cream, fold, knead, pat, press, form, toss, tear and pound. They are so sensitive that the instant your fingers touch or feel something, they transmit messages to your brain about texture and temperature. Just by touching a broiled steak or a roast, you can learn to tell when the meat is done to your liking. To test the temperature of a sauce, a soup, a stew, or a vegetable puree, just dip your finger in. Then touch your finger to your tongue and you’ll know whether the seasoning and flavoring are right or need some adjustment.

I’ve cooked using those principles since I read his book in 1977. Slow cookery seems to take that away. Throw everything in a pot and walk away. I feel somehow deprived, no longer the architect of a dish.

On the other hand, I’ve always had trouble bringing something — say beans — to a simmer and maintaining that proper simmer over an hour or more. I tend to keep messing with the flame. A slow cooker sure takes care of that.

So I’ll reconcile my argument with myself by treating the slow cooker as just another tool. Like a cast iron pot or a sauté pan, it’s not for everything. I now have a new tool for braises, stews and beans, it’s great for beans!

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One thought on “Slow Cookery

  1. As the “Bean Lady” I’m so flattered that someone actually listened to what I had to say at the Ferry Plaza market. Thanks so much including my fish chowder idea in the blog. I just wanted to clarify two little things on the seafood chowder idea for you. I DID defrost the Trader Joe’s mix to room temperature before I threw it into the pot. Putting something frozen into the crockpot during cooking pretty much sets you back an hour or so of cooking time. By the same token, if you have to add water, add hot water. And I also added a shot of gin at the very end. White wine would have worked as well, but I gotta tell ya, a little gin really made the dish.

    Like

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