Product Focus

Two months ago, we embarked on a rather industrious plot. For every proceeding month, I promised you, the reader, an article that discloses the mysteries of some of our most common small kitchen appliances. I regretted having to take a month's leave of absence but dutifully promise a great read for the future. This month is no exception, as we delve into the inner-workings of one of the larger of small appliances, the slow cooker.

Also known as a crockery cooker or a crock pot, the slow cooker, like the electric skillet, is a very useful item. As usual, I wish to end this article with some useful recipes. To the delight of our editor-in-chief, I will be including my world famous Herb and Seasoned Chicken. (Well, OK, it's not THAT famous but it is rather tasty) But let us wind back for a moment and look at slow cookers of today.

The slow cooker is a very simple device. It works on the premise that consistent, low-wattage heat will more thoroughly penetrate and cook the food mass. A heat source, at the bottom of the product, delivers its energy through the materials of the cooker and via conduction, into the food. Liquids, such as broth and internal juices and fats, aid in the cooking process by retaining the moisture and the heat. The whole process is capped, quite literally, by the product's cover, which like the skillet, induces convection and aid the cooking process.

Some slow cookers, especially of this era, address an interesting problem. How does one serve the cooked food immediately and to the awaiting mouths of the hungry? It is rather difficult to take the entire appliance to the table and, conversely, it is also difficult to take the food out, keep it warm, and not make a mess. The latter means other vessels to store the food in; more clean-up in the long run. Today, however, the cooking vessel is removable and can be stored, covered, for later use. And the vessel is unique as well. You have the choice between a glazed, clay crock or a simple metal vessel. There exists an argument for which vessel is the best. Metal cookers, with non-stick interiors, may lend themselves to shorter over-all cooking times due to the heat transfer efficiency. Crock cookers may lend themselves to slower times but enhanced thermal diffusion into the product. In the end?

In the end, both products run identically and it is up to the consumer which model they prefer. Below, I've evaluated some pros and cons for both models.

Metal Slow Cookers (with non-stick interiors)
    Metal slow cookers come in comfortable oblong and rectangular shapes. They store easier in shelving both in and out of the refrigerator. One obvious drawback is the look. However, manufacturers have addressed this issue with the external aesthetics by adding kitchen-sensitive decoration to the outside. Patterns such as florals are available in colors that should not interact unpleasingly to any home décor.
Crockery Cookers
    The robust feel of crockery cookware fits in some homes. But shapes are limited to circular due to constraints in manufacturing. This may hinder storage both in and out of the refrigerator. Additionally, care must be taken with crocks as their glaze wears more quickly over time compared to metal-nonstick surfaces. And when dropped, crocks tend to not survive. Serving-wise, however, the crock has a more pleasing presence both on and off the kitchen table or buffet.
Foods for thought and for use

Unlike our friend, the electric skillet, slow cookers are limited to what and how a food or meal can be prepared. In the end of this article, the two recipes you will find can suffice as the entire family's main course, to be supplemented with greens and dessert if so desired.

The best food products that lend themselves to be cooked with a slow cooker are larger proportion meats, stews, and soups. For example, whole turkey breast, duck, and small chickens fill the poultry side. Beef, pork, and lamb roasts finish this category. Other meats may include fish if one wished to cook it down into a soup or stew. Vegetables are a tricky item as some absorb moisture as they take on to cooking, and some lose their mass to the cooking process. It is very important to balance which vegetables and add them at the appropriate stages to the dish. You will see the case in point for the beef roast below. Water-heavy vegetables such as cabbage, celery, and onions should be added near the end of the dish. Water-absorbent vegetables such as potatoes, leeks, and carrots, added sooner if not at the beginning of the dish. My personal preference is for carrots, for example, to be added mid-way so as not to be over-cooked. Potatoes at the very beginning so as to soak up juices and flavors.

How to tame the beast

When I prepare a meal or dish with my slow cooker, I begin the cooking in the morning, letting it cook throughout the day, and it is ready for consumption when I return home from work. I use the lowest possible heat setting so as to ensure thorough cooking but to not destroy or dry out the food.

Let's now look at some simple recipes that incorporate the ideology of the modern slow cooker.

Herb and Seasoned Chicken with Vegetable Medley

    To begin, prepare one whole fryer chicken. Remove the liver, neck, and innards if needs be.

    Create and apply a simple salt and pepper rub for the entire chicken, and allow to sit for roughly ten minutes.

    While resting, prepare the vegetables. Coarsely chop 5 large stalks of celery and 5 large, sweet carrots. Place to the side. Chunk three medium white potatoes or 5 smaller reds. Coarsely slice one-half of a medium-sized white or red onion. Do not over-cut as the smaller pieces will be difficult to serve later.*

    In a small bowl, add two tablespoons cold-pressed, first-run olive oil and 1 cup water. Season with thyme, basil, oregano, and dried parsley. Add first to the slow cooker.

    Place the chicken into the slow cooker and put the appliance on LOW. Add potatoes.

    In four or five hours, add remaining vegetables, making sure to stir up the both and re-position the chicken.

    The dish is finished in an hour or two, when the meat begins tearing away from the bone or when a deep cut reveals minimal pink on the inside.

    *The vegetables may be seasoned overnight in a soy sauce drink that includes more of the above seasonings. This flavour carries on thoroughly in the chicken as well as other meats.

Hearty Beef Roast

    Prepare a beef tip roast by piercing the skin with a knife. Dual pierces will result in a cross-shaped cut. Make ten to twelve of these pierces and stuff a clove or garlic into each cross.

    Add to one cup water the seasonings of your choice. Some seasonings that compliment beef include oregano, thyme, mustard seed, and crushed black pepper. Finish this with two teaspoons of dry red sherry or Worcestershire sauce, depending on your tastes.

    Again, with the cooker at LOW, add the beef and sauce mix, covering and letting cook for 6 hours or so. Check the meat every hour or so, if possible, and stir the juices for flavor penetration into the meat.

    Slice thinly and serve over rice or with mashed potatoes.

Whitefish Stew

    In a sauce pan, prepare a simple white sauce roux. Begin with 1 table spoon cold, unsalted butter. With low heat, melt the butter and gently but brightly stir in 1/4 to 1/3 cup all-purpose flour.

    With the heat at a minimum, add roughly one cup of milk, slowly, stirring at all times for full incorporation. Continue to stir until sauce thickens. Add flour or milk if needed.

    In the sauce pan, add one large fillet of whitefish being sure to immerse it fully into the sauce. Cover and allow to simmer under low heat and cook for 5 - 10 minutes.

    Pour sauce, fish and all, into the slow cooker. On HIGH, add 1 cup chicken stock and cook for an hour, stirring every so often as to break up the fish. Season with spices such as cayenne or mustard powder.

    Serve warm, over a heavy European bread.