Rejoice: The crockpot season is upon us. I like to cook, and one of my favorite cooking utensils is a crockpot. Sure, I like barbecues, smokers, stovetops and ovens, but the weather is cooling down, so I whipped out the crockpot.
Our old crockpot pooped out last year, so I wanted to replace it with a cool All-Clad cooker I’d seen around, made of polished stainless steel and a digital display.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” my wife said when I told her the cost ($150), so I headed to Longs in Glenbrook Basin and bought a Rival crockpot for less than $50. It works beautifully.
Many people remember growing up in the ’70s up with crockpot cooking – you know, a pound of ground meat and Hamburger Helper, ingredients like that.
But crockpot cooking can be more creative and delicious, even nutritious.
The convenience of a crockpot is that you can cook and go to work at the same time.
But the real beauty, for me, is that slow cooking creates the most flavorable dishes, just like smoking pork or fish, for example. Crockpot cooking also fills the house with the aroma of the dish: Fall smells to go with Fall colors.
My favorite crockpot dishes are Chile Colorado, chicken and shrimp gumbo, braised Asian-style short ribs and white bean stew. The short ribs are excellent and happen to be a popular dish in many gourmet restaurants. (I figure they use a dutch oven).
My short rib recipe is modified from Emeril Lagasse, but you can find others. The basic ingredients to make it taste good are freshly grated ginger, lemongrass, Hoison sauce, and for the side, jasmine rice. Other ingredients include soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fresh garlic, brown sugar, green onions, crushed red pepper, orange juice and lemon juice.
I usually buy boneless short ribs, because I cook for my teenage nephews and you don’t have enough room in the pot with bones. I also sear the shortribs on the barbeque for color and flavor for about 10 minutes before putting them in the crockpot. I like grill marks.
The Chile Colorado is good, too. For this, you need fresh tomatillos. The white bean chile is a relative newcomer to my repertoire.
It comes from a good crockpot cookbook called “The Gourmet Slow Cooker, volume 2,” by Lynn Alley. My sister-in-law picked it up at JJ Jackson’s in Nevada City the other day because she thought I’d like it. (We trade recipes). I’d also like to try the Basque lamb shanks recipe – again this is not your mother’s crockpot cooking.
The beauty of Lynn’s white bean chile recipe is that it’s vegetarian (except for the chicken in the chicken stock), and you don’t have to soak the beans first. Just cook them with the rest of the ingredients, chicken stock, white wine, olive oil, white corn, garlic, cumin seed, coriander seed, diced green chiles, dried oregano, whipping cream and basil leaves, for six to eight hours on low. You garnish the chile with cilantro. Magnifique!
Here are some general tips I follow for crockpot cooking:
• Brown the beef, pork or chicken for color before putting them in the crockpot. I grill them on the barbeque or braise them on a stovetop for about 10 minutes, turning frequently. It also reduces the fat content of the dish. For many vegetable dishes, including the Chile Colorado, I roast the vegetables for color; in this case, the black specks. I put the veggies on a roasting pan under the broiler until some blister marks appear.
• Stir the dish often. If I’m around the house, I like to lift the lid and stir the dish from time to time with a big wooden spoon. It keeps the flavors blended.
• Skim off the fat. Let the fat settle and skim if off with a spoon. I sometimes put a paper towel across the top to absorb fat too. (Be careful not to make a mess or burn yourself when you remove it).
When it comes to leftovers, I like to reheat in a crockpot on warm and resist the temptation to zap it in a microwave. The dish stays more moist in the crockpot. You can add chicken or beef stock if you want depending on the recipe. (I prefer this to water). I almost always use a green garnish, such as green onions or flat parsley for presentation and flavor.
Braised Asian Short Ribs for Four
5 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 4-ounce portions
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, halved and smashed
1 tablespoon fresh peeled and minced ginger
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups beef broth (adjust as needed)
1/2 cup sliced green onion bottoms, white part only
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Jasmine Rice, for serving
2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind, for serving
Sliced green onion tops, optional for garnish
Barbeque the short ribs on an extremely hot gas grill until well browned on both sides. Look for grill marks. You also can braise the ribs in a pan on the stove.
Combine the short ribs, soy sauce, Hoisin sauce vinegar, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, brown sugar, water, green onion bottoms, crushed red pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the orange juice in a crockpot.
Drain the fat off of the cooking liquid and discard.
Remove short ribs from pot with tongs and serve hot over jasmine rice. Spoon sauce from the crockpot on top. Garnish with the green onions.
– Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, 2004 and modified by Jeff Pelline
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