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Slow Cookers 101

By February 18, 2011Food

Everything eventually gets to Russia, so I was not blown away to see the slow cooker make an appearance.  

Given the twin Russian proclivity for intense suffering and snobbery about home-cooked stews and soups (that saw the nice people from Campbell’s right out the door) I’m not overly confident that slow cookers are going to sweep the nation, but as they’ve arrived in a modest way, let’s take a look.

Q: How does it work?

A: A slow cooker consists of a container called “the stoneware” which fits inside an electric casing.   Food inside the stoneware is cooked by means of a steady low temperature of about 160 F (70 C).  This produces steam that condenses on the lid of the cooker, which is in turn reintroduced to the food as moisture.

Q:  What’s the difference between the slow cooker and my Dutch oven?

A:  Nothing, except the safety factor.  You can plug in the slow cooker and go to work: it will switch off after the programmed time is done and keep the dish warm for you.  You shouldn’t leave anything on the stove without supervision.

Q: It sounds a lot like something we had when I was a kid called a crock-pot.

A: That’s right.  The slow cooker works just like a crock pot, it’s just been rebranded: it’s shed it’s autumn color/1970s bell bottom image in favor of a 21st Century sleek metal image.  Nevertheless, the science is the same.

Q: I did not love the stuff that came out of the crock-pot.  It was tasteless and the texture was either soggy or underdone.  Is the slow cooker going to produce the same results?

A:  Not necessarily.   There are a few things you can do to ensure that your slow cooker produces the right taste, texture, and degree of doneness:

  • Don’t just throw raw vegetables and meat into the slow cooker.  Sweat the aromatics (onions, scallions, garlic, leeks, celery) and brown the meat.  Some slow cookers feature heat-resistant stoneware, which means you can prep the ingredients right in the stoneware.  If your stoneware is ceramic, you cannot do this, but you can prep the ingredients in saucepan or skillet and then add them.
  • Choose your recipes wisely:  slow cookers are great for stews, soups, stock, braises, and casseroles.  They are fantastic for chili and curries.   Don’t try to roast or bake in them.
  • Add dairy at the end:  if your recipe calls for cream or milk to be added to the recipe, add this as a finish at the very end to ensure the milk solids don’t curdle.

 Q:  Do you have a slow cooker, Mosocovore?

A:  I sure do!  I use it a lot: I make all my stock in it, do my soups, stews, and I make a mean white bean and sausage chili in it as well.  I’m a horse show mom, so it’s perfect for those long days when I’m out watching Velvet do her thing: we come home to a nice hot meal that’s all ready to go.  Since HRH (my “Horrible Russian Husband”) works late, the slow cooker is a great way to make sure he has something ready when he rolls in at 10 pm.  The slow cooker is a godsend at holidays as well – it can keep the mashed potatoes warm for hours while the turkey hogs the oven.

Q:  Okay, it’s safe, it’s convenient, it’s a time-saver, and I can put dinner on the table AND go on one of Phoebe’s walks.  I’m intrigued.  Where can I learn more?

A: Check out Stephanie O’Dea’s fantastically comprehensive blog: A Year OF Slow Cooking.

Q:  Wait…before you go:  where can I get a slow cooker in Moscow?

A: Williams & Oliver have a nice Kenwood with two temperature functions for 2 093 rub.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Karen Percy says:

    I am loving the idea of keeping the mashed potatoes warm at Thanksgiving, please tell me more!

    • jennifer says:

      Hi Karen!
      Thanks for your comments (and for your e mail with the copyediting advice — MOST WELCOME!). Regarding a slow cooker – you know, it is very self indulgent to have a piece of kitchen kit for only one day a year, but the slow cooker really does come into its own on T’day. It’s superb for keeping things warm without having to fuss over them, crowd out the oven, or waste time reheating. I use my slow cooker for many other things: it makes terrific chili, fantastic stock, great stews, excellent braises, and it is super for re-hydrating beans or defrosting meat. If you are looking for something to simplify your life, you can do much worse than a SC!
      Hope that’s helpful!

      Jennifer

      • Karen Percy says:

        so you make the mashed potatoes as normal and then once they’re done put them in the slow cooker on warm??? I went to great lengths to get mine when I couldn’t find one here and love it. but I like the idea of keeping stuff warm when oven and stove top space is at a premium.

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