In the last few years I’ve become a convert of Crock Pots and slow cookers. In my younger days, as a chef, the mere mention of a slow cooker would elicit derisive chuckles out of me and my cohorts. Slow cookers were tools for those who didn’t know how to cook properly, or for the “happy homemaker” who couldn’t master the art of braising. These were my younger, food snob days. I’ve since then changed my tune quite dramatically. Admittedly, I still prefer to create a braised dish on the stove top or in the oven, but those require that I be home for a considerable amount of time to watch over them. Sorry, but I would never leave my house for hours with the oven or stove on, but a Crock Pot is a different story. Plug it in, turn it on, go to work, and come back hours later to a warm, hearty meal.
Slow cookers aren’t the end all for braising though. There are too many dishes that require a more subtle touch than a slow cooker can achieve, or need a better mix of dry and moist heat that the humid environment of a Crock Pot just can’t achieve, but many dishes, such as stews, soups, pot roasts, etc. are perfectly suited for a slow cooker.
There are a couple of tips that I will offer up though to help you make your Crock Pot meal come closer to restaurant quality. The most important is browning your meat before you add it to the slow cooker. Most slow cooker recipes are created to be “dump and go,” but I beg you to take the time to brown your meat first. This is what really helps develop that deep flavor that is found in slow cooked meats. Take the time to brown all sides of the meat to a deep brown before adding it to your slow cooker. After browning the meat deglaze the hot pan with some kind of liquid, preferably a little wine or other alcohol and add this to the slow cooker also, making sure you scrape up any little cooked bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. The other tip I offer up, is forget that “high” setting on your Crock Pot. If you are putting something in the cooker before work and won’t be home until dinner time “low” will be plenty to cook just about anything. I don’t care what the recipe says, use the low setting or risk coming home to overly cooked, dry meat. Of course that high setting can be used for shorter cooked items or to reduce the braising liquid after the meat is done, but for any cooking of over 4 hours stay away from that setting.
Today, I created a great Crock Pot Sauerbraten dinner. It was based on a couple of traditional sauerbraten recipes I have. Traditionally the beef is marinated for 2-3 days before cooking. This helps to create a dish with lots of depth of flavor and it also helps to tenderize tougher cuts of meat. In this version I skip the days of marinating. The end product might not have quite the depth of the original but is so flavorful I don’t think you will notice.
Crock Pot Sauerbraten
serves 6-8 depending on the size of your roast
3-5 pound Chuck Roast
2 each Carrots, peeled and sliced
2 ribs Celery, chopped
2 each Yellow Onions, peeled and chopped
1 cup Red Wine
2/3 cup Cider or Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
12 each Cloves, whole
12 each Allspice, whole
20 each Peppercorns, whole
2 each Bay Leaves
8 each Juniper Berries, crushed slightly (optional)
1 cup Water
10 each Gingersnap cookies
Season meat with salt and pepper. Brown both sides of the chuck roast in a hot skillet, until a deep brown. Place meat in a slow cooker. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of water, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan. Add to the slow cooker. Add vegetables, wine, vinegar and sugar to slow cooker. Place the spices in a coffee filter (for easy removal) and tie shut. Add to the slow cooker, cover, turn to low and allow to cook for at least 5 hours and up to 8. The meat should be fork tender when done. When meat is done crush up the gingersnaps and add to slow cooker along with the remaining 1/2 cup of water. Replace cover and cook 30 minutes longer. Gingersnaps will dissolve into the sauce thickening it. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
**Note** I use the term slow cooker and Crock Pot interchangeably. Crock Pot is a proprietary name for slow cookers though it has become a generic term referring to all slow cookers, in every day usage.