That's A 'Crock': A Slow-Cooker Confession
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe in the magical power of the slow- cooker, and those who don’t.
This writer has always been in the second camp. While I have no problem with the concept of cooking things slowly (hello, barbecue), the thought of setting out food to cook itself unsupervised has always seemed a little too futuristic, not to mention downright dangerous (hello, salmonella).
Blame it on those early slow-cookers from the l970s. Avocado green and harvest gold, they had dubious dials with only three settings: OFF, LOW, and HIGH. With no timer or thermostat, they demanded we give up control in the belief that the machine knew best. That we could dump ingredients into a vessel on the counter, leave the house, and come back hours later to a hearty, tasty meal.
It never worked that way for me, and I considered the primordial Crock-Pot (used generically, it’s actually a brand name of the Rival Company) nothing more than a fad that would fade as fast as platform shoes. So it was surprising to see slow-cookers turning up at stores, websites, recipe blogs, and – gulp – friends’ homes recently.
I’ve had to make the leap of faith and eat the meals trusted friends prepare in their slow-cookers. I'm learning to do this, based on these cooks’ track records of feeding friends and family without disappointment or disease, but I'm still nervous.
Clearly the disconnect is all mine. I wanted reassurance so I reached out to the experts.
Durham-based author Kathy Hester has written two books focusing on slow-cookers. She has lots of tips and recipes to share. “Make sure to test any new-to-you slow-cooker to see if it’s running hot. Some of the newer models will actually boil on low. The easiest way to do this is to make a soup first. Even if your slow-cooker runs hot, you'll still end up with a perfect soup.” She suggests tasting before serving a dish, since the seasonings may need adjusting after lengthy cooking. Size matters but bigger isn’t always better, according to Hester. Machines between one and four quarts are best for smaller batches. You won’t need anything larger than four or six quarts unless you routinely cook for a crowd or like to fill your freezer.
The modern machines are more reliable and the recipes are healthier, too. Kitchen magician Meg Humphrey isn’t just a fabulous cook, she’s also an M.D. She likes the convenience of her slow-cooker and advises, “Follow the instructions. Use the ‘warm’ setting once you’ve finished cooking the food to hold it at a safe temperature. Don’t use it to reheat [refrigerated] food.” She doesn’t fret about imagined malfunctions or food safety problems, so it seems silly for me to continue doing it.
Chili, stews, and soups: I like to make them and I like to serve them from my old set of Le Creuset cookware, after stirring and tasting and watching the pot all day. Would a slow-cooker make it easier? Maybe – but I’ll never find out. There’s no room on my kitchen counter to put one. That’s my story, and I'm sticking to it.