A slow cooker — also known as a crock pot (a trademarked name often used generically, like kleenex or xerox) — is an electric cooking pot that sits on the counter and cooks slowly. Duh. Originally developed by the Naxon Utilities Corporation of Chicago, with the delightful name Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker, the pot got very popular in the 1970s, when many more women began to work outside the home (it was sadly renamed the crock pot at this point). The pot cooks at a very low heat over a long period of time and it was popular with the career gals who could just chuck some raw meat and veg in there with a bit of liquid and come home 8 hours later to find — voila! — a lovely stew. This is how it works: a heating element heats the contents of a ceramic pot to 79–93 °C (174–199 °F). The vapor produced at this temperature condenses on the bottom of the lid and returns to the pot as liquid. The liquid transfers heat from the pot walls to its contents and distributes the flavours.
I don’t recall why or when I became interested in the slow cooker. Maybe I happened upon a recipe that intrigued me. Maybe it’s because my Italian gas stove is hopelessly unregulatable and it’s impossible to cook things slowly — the temperature is either ‘inferno’ or ‘off.’ I didn’t grow up around a crock pot so that’s not it. And by the time I started wanting one I was already working at home where the need for a kitchen appliance that would miraculously make dinner with very little input from me was far less pressing than when I was commuting 50 kilometres to and from work every day. So that’s not it either. Whatever the reason, a couple of years ago I got interested enough to idly cast my eye about in search of a crock pot each time I visited an electronics store. Guess what? You can’t get a crock pot here. Which seems nuts because it would seem to perfectly marry the Italian love of hearty soups and stews that are simmered all day with the economic reality that is forcing more and more women to work outside the home. But no. No crock pots in Rome.
Having run out of electronics stores and my idle interest having been stoked to a by the seeming impossibility of attaining its object in situ, I turned to Amazon UK. Within three days I had the cooker in my hot little hands. It wasn’t long before I was obsessed.
Oatmeal and amaranth porridge with fruits, nuts and almond milk: The name of this dish basically gives you the recipe. Put all of that stuff in the crock pot (minus the almond milk, which you add in the last hour) and go practice tap dancing alongside You Tube videos for 3-4 hours. I’ve always hated oatmeal even though I know it’s supposed to be good for me. This version is a bit gloopy — I probably cooked it too long — but very tasty mixed with lemon yoghurt.
Chicken adobo with smashed sweet potatoes — Bung 2 pounds of chicken pieces into the crock pot along with a load of sliced onions, minced garlic and a couple of bay leaves. Add a cup of coconut milk and two tablespoons each of rice vinegar and soy sauce. Watch three movies on Netflix and enjoy the national dish of the Philippines.
Sauercraut and pork shoulder roast: Salt and pepper the roast and spread it with a mustard-mayo blend. Place the roast on a bed of (drained) sauercraut and go read a book and nap for 10 hours. Fantastic.
‘Roast’ chicken: Throw a few garlic cloves and a half a lemon in the cavity; squirt some lemon on the chicken and salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup water or stock to the pot. Go lie on the couch and eat bon bons for six hours. I am making this as we speak. Okay, you do miss the crunchy crackly skin you get with a real roast chicken but, on the positive side, it won’t dry out like roast chicken often does. Bonus: this chicken makes its own gravy.
Caramelized onions: Slice up four onions and throw ’em in with a stick of butter. Go to bed and sleep le sommeil des justes. Twelve hours later, wake up to an amazing smelling house and a pot of lovely, sweet onions which, although they may not pass muster with the strict letter of the law element of the foodie brigade, do NOT involve the 90 minutes of stirring, heat adjusting and peeling even more onions because you’ve burned the first batch required to caramelize onions the regular way.
Bacon jam: This one involves a bit more work because it involves browning the bacon and sautéing onions and garlic before throwing them in the crock pot with cider vinegar, maple syrup, brown sugar and black coffee and going off to watch Gordon Ramsay videos for five hours. Then you have to whiz it up in the blender. The finished product is a bit weird, but not unpleasant. C’mon, it’s bacon! It reminds me of this classic Friends ep. I think bacon jam would be great on crackers with crunchy peanut butter or maybe on a burger with cheddar cheese.
The Upstairs Vegetarian is unimpressed with the decidedly meaty nature of my experimentation. I have promised to test out some veggie thing or other at some point — apparently you can even make bread in this thing.