I don't understand why slow cookers bring out the worst in short cut cooking. It seems like most of the recipes go something like this:
Put the meat, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a package of onion soup mix in the slow cooker, and cook on low for ten hours.Ugh. While this recipe, and I use that phrase loosely, will give you a cooked piece of meat, that's about all I can say for it.
*I'm trying not to get on another rant about cooking with real food. Why, in the name of all that is good in this world, would you use cream of mushroom soup? Why?
I like my slow cooker recipes to have a little more finesse. Today I'm making pork pot roast, a winter staple in our household. I make sure I brown the roast and saute the onions before putting them in the slow cooker. These steps give my pot roast a deep, meaty, caramelized layer of flavor. Then the slow cooker works its magic, tenderizing the meat over the long cooing time. You get great results without any hands-on work after the initial preparation.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Pot Roast
Cook time: 10 hours
- 6 quart or larger slow cooker (Crock Pot brand is fine, but I like my fancy ones from All-Clad and KitchenAid)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 3-5 pound pork shoulder roast (aka Boston butt roast)
- 2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp garlic powder (or 1 minced clove of garlic)
- 1 tsp dried lemon peel (I get dried lemon peel from Penzeys. You can substitute the zest of a lemon)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Large onion, peeled and diced
- 15 oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 cup chicken stock (homemade is preferable) or water
- 1 pound baby carrots (or 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the sauce.
1. Season and sear the roast: Sprinkle the salt, pepper, coriander, garlic powder and lemon peel evenly over the pork roast. Heat 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a fry pan or skillet until just shimmering. Sear the roast in the pan, 3 minutes per side or until well browned, about 12 minutes total. Move the pork roast into the slow cooker.
2. Saute the vegetables: Reduce the heat in the pan to medium, and add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion and cook, stirring and scraping any browned pork from the bottom of the pan, until the onion is softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, thyme, and stock, and bring to a simmer. Pour over the pork roast in the slow cooker.
3. Slow cook the roast: Add the carrots to the slow cooker, pouring them around the edge of the pork roast. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or high for 4 to 5 hours. Remove the roast to a carving board, and remove the carrots to a serving bowl.
4. Make the sauce, carve the roast, serve: Let the sauce settle for ten minutes, then spoon off as much of the fat as possible from the top of the sauce. Puree the sauce with a hand blender. (Skip the pureeing if you like a chunkier, more rustic sauce.) Taste the sauce, and add more salt and pepper if it needs it. Carve the roast, cutting it crosswise into 1/2" slices. Sprinkle some kosher salt over the sliced roast, top with a little of the sauce, and serve, passing the rest of the sauce and the carrots on the side.
My favorite thing to serve this with is mashed potatoes, to help soak up the sauce. Crusty bread is another good sauce dipping option. The pork calls out for something green and crisp on the side - green beans are usually my choice. If you want to go for the gold in the slow cooker biathlon*, make Slow Cooker White Beans as a side dish.
*I'm excited about the Winter Olympics. Can you tell?
*Simple version: If you're in a big hurry, and you need the dump and cook method, do the following. Skip the browning step; just season the roast, dice the onion, then dump everything in the crock pot and turn it on. It loses the depth of flavor that a good, browned roast gives you, but it also cuts the prep time down to a couple of minutes. The results will put anything involving cream of mushroom soup to shame. Also, skip the settling and pureeing steps - just spoon the sauce over the roast.
*If skipping the browning is the difference between making pot roast and not making pot roast, then go ahead and simplify. But try it with the browning step if you can; I think you'll see why I take the extra time.
*Make ahead version: If you're in a hurry in the morning, but don't want to lose the flavor of the browning steps, you can do them the night before. Do steps 1 and 2, then refrigerate the pork and vegetables overnight. In the morning, take them out of the refrigerator, transfer them to the slow cooker, and continue with step 3.
*If your slow cooker has a removable ceramic insert, do NOT use it to store the ingredients in the refrigerator. Why? Because a refrigerated insert will take forever to heat up, and even worse, the insert may crack from the sudden increase in temperature when you turn the heat on.
*Southwestern version: Replace the rub ingredients (coriander, garlic powder, lemon peel) with 2 tsp chili powder, and add a can of diced green peppers and (optional, if you like heat) 1 tbsp chipotle puree with the tomatoes.
*Other starchy root vegetable options: Parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, cabbage - all go well in the slow cooker. Cut into 1 to 1.5" chunks, and add to the cooker. Fish out like you did the carrots when you're done.
|Self portrait: "slow cooker reflections of a messy kitchen"|
*I prefer shoulder cuts for the slow cooker because they're almost impossible to overcook, and that's what the slow cooker does - it overcooks things. 8 hours, even on low, is a mighty long time to cook something. Shoulder cuts are better when they're overcooked; they have a lot of fat and connective tissue that melts during the long cooking time.
*The slow cooker doesn't need much in the way of added liquids; the pork, onions and tomatoes have plenty in them. That's why I only add an additional 1/2 cup of stock; it's real purpose is to loosen up the fond you created by browning the pork and the onions, so you can get it into the slow cooker to add its flavor to the sauce.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Passionate defenses of cream of mushroom soup? Leave them in the comments section below.
Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa
Slow Cooker White Beans and Greens with Italian Sausage
Slow Cooker Pork Pot Roast in Cooks Country magazine [cookscountry.com, subscription required]
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