The assortment of counter-clogging cookware you need to braise, bake or warm a holiday menu can be replaced by this year’s one must-have appliance: the slow cooker. This trusty tool, which cooks weeknight chili or sloppy joes when time can’t be spared, works magic on elegant cuisine.
The slow cooker’s makeover as a gourmet appliance isn’t surprising to devotees. However, even fans are amazed by its versatility and convenience.
Thanks to renewed interest in Julia Child’s cookbooks, braising is becoming popular. The method calls for cooking food in a small amount of liquid in a covered container over low heat for a long time. “A slow braise that you could do on the stovetop or in the oven, you can also do in a slow cooker,” says Michele Scicolone, author of The Italian Slow Cooker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).
In fact, if you can put a dish in the oven to cook for three hours you can put it in a slow cooker instead, according to Betty Byrne, director of the consumer test kitchen for Hamilton Beach Brands.
A slow cooker is made for long-simmering recipes, but temperamental dishes also fare surprisingly well. “I love making polenta as an accompaniment to pot roast,” Scicolone says. “But it’s very fussy when you stand there and stir it. If you make it in a slow cooker it stays creamy.”
Even those cooks who prepare party foods the traditional way will find the advantages to the utensil. “Some people use the slow cooker simply for keeping food warm,” Byrne says. “They may not cook food in the slow cooker, but use it as a serving piece [similar to a chafing dish].”
Beef shanks with red wine and tomatoes
(Adapted from The Italian Slow Cooker)
- 1 large head garlic, separated into cloves, peeled
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1 (14-ounce) can Italian peeled tomatoes with their juice, chopped
- 1 (4-inch) sprig fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon crushed, dried
- 3 pounds bone-in beef shanks, about 2 inches thick, trimmed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Thick-sliced Italian bread
Scatter garlic in large slow cooker. Add the wine, tomatoes and rosemary. Place the beef shanks in the cooker and sprinkle with salt to taste and plenty of pepper. Cover and cook at low setting for 6 to 8 hours, or until beef is tender and falling off the bone. Skim and discard excess fat; correct seasoning.
Toast the bread and place 1 or 2 slices in each serving dish. Break the beef up with a spoon and ladle some of the beef, garlic and juices over the bread. Serve with the bones for the marrow. Makes 8 servings.