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Good Things With Bad Raps

November 30, 2009

Building off of yesterday’s post about Beaujolais Nouveau, I figured I would continue the theme of good things that get a bad rap.

There are plenty of them.  And I could probably pack a month’s worth of posts under that theme.  But there is a tool in my kitchen that falls under this category that I have been meaning to write about for some time.  The problem is, it seems rather unlikely that someone as fussy as me would own this device, much less use it frequently.

I’ll come right out and say it.  I love my slow cooker.

My memory is a little fuzzy about how it came into our house.  It might have had something to do with expecting our first child, and the realization that cooking elaborate meals might become problematic.

And how we selected this particular device seems questionable, because at least by today’s Cook’s Illustrated equipment reviews AND Consumer Reports product ratings, our beloved model ranks towards the bottom.

Bottom of the barrel or not, our slow cooker is indispensable to our busy family.  It helps us finds some way to sit down to a wholesome homemade non-microwaved dinner more nights than not.

The bum rap that slow cookers have received is certainly justified.  They are large, and they are clunky.  They are hard to clean, and the recipe books that are written for them are atrocious.  Most braises or stews come out watery.  Large pieces of meat may take longer to cook through than anticipated, making it a very slow cooker indeed.  There is even some concern about foodborne bacteria multiplying at low levels of heat as the cooker slowly rises to safe cooking temperatures.

How could something like this be good?
How could someone like me find this to be invaluable?

Here’s the trick: Our model has a pot that is both removable and stovetop safe.

It’s a small thing.  But it means that I never actually solely use the slow cooker as a slow cooker.  It’s more of a hot plate that can hold a simmer, while I leave the house for a while and attend to other pressing matters.

Still this opens up long-braised meats, slow-cooked sauces, and hearty soups as potential weeknight meals.

The early stages of cooking all happen on the stovetop.  I can render my bacon or sausage, sauté the aromatics, toast spices, and get my liquids quickly up to a boil.  Then, if need be, in the famous words of some late night infomercial, I can “set it and forget it.”

Should there be too much liquid in the pot at the end of cooking, I can always put the insert back on the stovetop to concentrate the sauce.  In the old days I might have mounted it with butter – but no more.

Really, the best part is being able to leave the house or deal with other things while cooking without fear of burning the house down.  And maybe some of you don’t have that problem.  Maybe some of you leave the oven on when you are not at home.  Perhaps some of you eat sushi in Albany.

Risk is funny business.

Anyhow, I don’t even think the model I have is on the market anymore.  But here I am going against the Cook’s Illustrated recommendation and suggesting that if you are considering a slow cooker to look for one with a removable stovetop safe insert.

They are great, just as long as you don’t mistake them for slow cookers.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kerosena permalink
    November 30, 2009 12:37 pm

    I love my slow cooker. I don’t use it often, but the joy of coming home from work to the smell of warm deliciousness cannot be underestimated. And really, I think slow cooker haters come off as a bit snobbish.

    I find mine pretty easy to clean. I think most current models have the removable pot, though it never occured to me to use it on the stovetop. I transfer extra liquid to a saucepan and go from there.

  2. Sister of Raf permalink
    November 30, 2009 1:03 pm

    So are you going to give us some good recipes, or what?

  3. Vanessa Gabor permalink
    November 30, 2009 2:09 pm

    would love some good recipes…all I seem to do is pulled chicken.
    btw tried the mom made it and brought some over on Sat. OMG so good..I could only imagine how good it would be with the full dinner! Yum

    • November 30, 2009 11:47 pm

      Recipes? The problem is that for my dishes, I don’t generally use recipes. Rather, I employ techniques, and throw ingredients together that play nicely, and use my best judgment as to proportions. Then I taste and adjust as necessary.

      So, next time I make my Simplified Red Beans & Rice, I’m actually going to try and measure out the ingredients so I can tell you all how I make it in the slow cooker.

      But in the meantime, I make The Most Delicious Split Pea Soup In the Known Universe in the device. I have a couple of ham hocks from Rolph’s and would actually make another batch of this tomorrow if I weren’t heading off to Harvest Spirits for my applejack.

      More to come. Patience please. Keep reading. I’m here every day but Saturday.

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