Lunchtime. Yay. Week-old roast beef and mustard on sourdough with stale pita chips. Only 12,774 lunches left on the interminable, slow, plodding path to death we all walk together. Might as well head back to your desk and pretend to work for the rest of the day, stomach grumbling, wearing that same emotionless face you wear every day of your life.
Now, I’m not saying that a slow cooker will relieve the existential dread inherent to a consciousness that is able to grasp how truly insignificant it is in the true scope of things, but, at the very least, you’ll be able to enjoy your lunch more.
Most of you probably know how a slow cooker or crock pot works—you plug it in, throw a bunch of stuff in there, and then go do whatever until it’s done. If you don’t have a crock pot and are in the market, however, it’d probably be best to look for one that’s relatively big, and at least has multiple heat settings and a programmable timer. I’m lucky enough to have access to this Hamilton Beach model that my roommate owns, so I didn’t even have to buy my own, but it’s only 50 bucks, and comes with a probe if you ever want to make some fancy roast beef or London broil. It’s also big enough to accommodate a big ol’ pork shoulder for whenever I want to make barbecue, but get something that’s right for you. You really shouldn’t be paying more than $75 for something with all the bells and whistles that you most likely don’t even need.
This is usually the point at which I give you recipes, which yeah, I’ll do that, but the great thing about slow cookers is you can really just kind of jam whatever you have in there and you’ll normally get something that tastes great. Broccoli rabe, canned tomatoes, crappy wine, bay leaves, and 5 pounds of chicken thighs? Pop that in there for a few hours, serve over pasta, season with salt and pepper, and you have a meal fit for a dinner party attended by more people than your tiny apartment can reasonably fit. Seriously, with the possible exception of mustard greens and collard greens, both of which turn into a gooey mush in a slow cooker, just fill it with things you like, and by the time it’s done, you’ll like the result.
That said, here are some guiding principles. For leaner cuts of meat, like chicken breasts, thighs, or really any other already-sliced meats, keep the timer down around 4ish hours and cook on low. You don’t want to overcook anything in a slow cooker, because believe it or not, they will dry out even if they’ve been swimming in whatever conglomeration of sauces you’ve thrown in there. Conversely, for thicker cuts of meat like pork shoulder or really, anything you’re planning on shredding, you’re going to want to let that cook for a while on low heat, probably around 8 to 12 hours. I usually like searing these cuts first as well, just to add a bit of flavor and textural interest to the final dish.
In terms of usage, again, the slow cooker is a utilitarian tool fit to multitask. I use mine primarily to prepare healthy lunches for the week ahead of time using lean meats and plenty of vegetables. As a sidenote, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms are wonderful flavor sponges and turn out great in any slow cooked dish. Most recently, I threw a pork shoulder in there with Brussels sprouts, long-cut green onions, ginger, soy sauce, and duck sauce, and I was rewarded 12 hours later with not just all my lunches for the week, but also the ability to make irresponsible choices on weeknights without having to worry about fixing my lunch for the next day.
If you want to get fancy and get some roast beef going, heat some oil in a pan until it screams, then throw a big cut of beef on there to sear it on all sides. I prefer top blade or top round roasts, but use your favorite. This’ll work for brisket too. Once the meat is seared, grab some of those small red potatoes, chop some leeks into slices, and quarter a few onions. Toss all that with salt and pepper, and spread them across the bottom of your slow cooker. Put your roast on top of that and pop the lid on. Skewer the roast with the probe, and set the slow cooker to stop cooking when the roast reaches 120 degrees in the middle, making it perfectly rare. Invite your friends over because the unbearable lightness of being is best shared, and carve them all a few slices before topping with some horseradish. The onions, leeks and potatoes will absorb the roast’s juices, making them soft and unctuous, so make sure to stiff your friends on those and hoard them for yourself.
Again, the whole point of the slow cooker is to be able to take a bunch of random stuff out of your fridge, put it in the cooker, wait, and suddenly have a whole bunch of food that, yeah, is actually surprisingly okay. And while it may not solve the problem of finding meaning in a life we all know could end at any moment, well hey, what do you expect? It’s just a slow cooker, and I’m just a blogger. At least it’ll make meal time a little better.
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