By Joe Bonwich St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Home slow cookers have been around for more than 40 years, but today, they’re almost trendy. They’re perfect for braising, a technique that’s a favorite of chefs who have been embracing less-expensive cuts of meat that become hearty and succulent when cooked low and slow.
In addition to braising — cooking food in a little liquid at a fairly low temperature — a spate of new cookbooks have been promoting slow cooking for everything from calorie counting (“Weight Watchers One Pot Cookbook”) to new approaches to ethnic specialties (“The French Slow Cooker,” by Michele Scicolone; “Slow Cooking,” by Antony Worrall Thompson, which has recipes inspired by the foods of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean).
And if you live alone or in a small household, slow cookers are great for making a meal to enjoy right away plus leftovers to refrigerate or freeze for later.
If you haven’t pulled your slow cooker out of the cabinet for a while, maybe it’s time. Here are some recipes to get you off to a fast start toward some wonderful slow food.
2tablespoons ground dry mustard
2tablespoons dried thyme
2tablespoons ancho chile powder or chili powder (see note)
1tablespoon ground coriander
1tablespoon smoked paprika, preferably hot
1teaspoon ground cumin
2teaspoons ground anise seed
1tablespoon ground ginger
1/4cup packed light brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1(5-pound) beef brisket (see note)
2large yellow onions, diced
3medium carrots, peeled and diced
3ribs celery, diced
1head garlic, unpeeled, cut in half horizontally
Combine dry mustard, thyme, chile powder, coriander, paprika, cumin, anise, ginger and brown sugar in a small bowl.
Salt and pepper the brisket on both sides. Rub the brisket with a little olive oil. Generously coat the brisket on all sides with the rub.
Place onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Place the brisket, fat side up, on top of the vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
Transfer the brisket to a cutting board or platter, cover loosely and let cool completely before trimming off fat and slicing.
Strain the drippings through a fine-mesh strainer into a storage container. Discard vegetables. Cover and refrigerate the drippings until the fat rises to the top and hardens. Remove and discard the fat. The remaining drippings can be heated and served as a sauce with the sliced brisket. Cooked brisket can be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. To reheat, place sliced brisket and strained drippings into a casserole or large oven-safe pot and cover. Reheat in 300-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
Makes 10 servings. Per serving, with defatted drippings: 520 calories; 22g fat; 8g saturated fat; 105mg cholesterol; 74g protein; 7g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 1g fiber; 120mg sodium; 65mg calcium.
Note: If using regular chili powder, add 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper for heat, if desired. Warehouse stores are the best source of large briskets such as the one called for in this recipe.
Adapted from “Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes,” by Laura Frankel
2cups chopped, peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes or chopped canned tomatoes
3medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2ribs celery, chopped
1large fennel bulb, chopped, green tops trimmed and feathery leaves chopped and reserved
1medium leek, trimmed, well-washed and sliced
3tablespoons tomato paste
1teaspoon herbes de Provence (see note)
1/4teaspoon hot smoked paprika or ground red (cayenne) pepper
1pinch saffron threads, crumbled
1cup dry white wine
1cup bottled clam juice
1pound boneless, skinless fish fillets, such as halibut, grouper or monkfish
8ounces sea scallops
8ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
6small hardshell clams, soaked and scrubbed (optional)
1small loaf French bread, sliced and toasted
Rouille (see recipe)
Combine tomatoes, carrots, celery, fennel and leek in a large slow cooker. Add tomato paste, herbes de Provence, paprika, saffron and salt to taste. Add water, wine and clam juice. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or until the vegetables are tender.
Cut fish into bite-size chunks and stir into the soup with sea scallops, shrimp and clams (if using). Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. Taste; adjust seasonings if necessary.
Place a slice of bread into each soup dish. Add bouillabaise; sprinkle with fennel fronds. Serve hot with a spoonful of rouille on top. Pass the remaining bread and rouille at the table.
Makes 6 servings. Per serving (without bread or rouille): 250 calories; 3g fat; no saturated fat; 100mg cholesterol; 34g protein; 15g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 4g fiber; 325mg sodium; 110mg calcium.
Note: Herbes de Provence is a spice mixture available in the dried spice aisle of some supermarkets and at specialty stores. Typical ingredients include some combination of thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, basil, fennel seeds and lavender.
Adapted from “The French Slow Cooker,” by Michele Scicolone
1/4cup roasted red bell peppers
1clove garlic, peeled
1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1pinch smoked hot paprika or ground red (cayenne) pepper
In a blender or food processor, finely chop red peppers and garlic together.
Add mayonnaise, oil, lemon juice and paprika; process until smooth. Serve immediately with bouillabaisse or other dishes or refrigerate in a covered jar for up to 2 days.
Yield: about 3/4 cup. Per tablespoon: 80 calories; 9g fat; 1g saturated fat; 3mg cholesterol; no protein; no carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 50mg sodium; no calcium.
Adapted from “The French Slow Cooker,” by Michele Scicolone
Shredded chicken ragu with pasta
1(28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
1onion, finely chopped
3fresh basil sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried basil
2cloves garlic, minced
1/4teaspoon ground black pepper
2(5-ounce) skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat (see tester’s note)
4cups hot cooked whole-wheat rotini
1/4cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine tomatoes, onion, basil, garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper in a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Nestle the chicken in the vegetables. Cover and cook on low until chicken is cooked through, about 4 to 6 hours. Discard basil sprigs and bay leaf.
With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a cutting board. With two forks, shred chicken. Discard bones. Return chicken to slow cooker along with rotini; toss until mixed well. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan.
Najes 4 servubgs, Per serving: 329 calories; 5g fat; 2g saturated fat; 29mg cholesterol; 20g protein; 51g carbohydrate; 10g sugar; 5g fiber; 561mg sodium; 166mg calcium.
Tester’s note: For a meatier dish, use up to 4 chicken thighs. Each additional thigh will add 26 calories, 1 gram of fat and 3 grams of protein per serving.
Adapted from “Weight Watchers One Pot Cookbook”
Slow cooker tips
• Cut ingredients to uniform sizes for even cooking.
• For better flavor, brown meat and vegetables on the stove before adding them to the cooker.
• Make sure the slow cooker is at least half full, but don’t overfill: Leave a gap of at least 1 1/2 inches between the food and the top.
• Dishes usually take twice as long to cook on low as they do on high. Many dishes, however — soups, braises, casseroles and meat in pieces, for example — cook best on low.
• Like microwaves, slow cookers can vary. When first using a slow cooker, check to see if the food is done more quickly or slowly than the recommended cooking times, and adjust accordingly when using the cooker for other recipes.
• Suggested times are generally not hard and fast: A dish will not be ruined if left on for an hour or so longer.
• Avoid lifting the lid during cooking. If you do, add 20 minutes to the cooking time.
• Don’t soak the ceramic pot in water to clean it. The exterior of the base is usually porous, and any absorbed water could cause it to crack when next heated.
Adapted from “Slow Cooking,” by Antony Worrall Thompson