Can most recipes — for example, soup recipes — be prepared in a slow cooker? I have many good soup recipes, but I often if they would work well in the slow cooker. Maybe another way to phrase the question is: Are there any recipes (or aspects of recipes) that would NOT work well in the CrockPot?
— Kelley Coblentz-Bautch
Most soups can absolutely be made in a slow cooker, and you’ll only start to run into problems if you’re making soups or stews with rice or pasta, which can easily overcook in a slow cooker.
I asked Katy Parker, a cooking instructor and private chef, about her thoughts on what makes a recipe suited for a slow cooker or not.
Parker, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, says that the best slow cooker dishes are usually those in which you build flavors step by step. Sometimes, that means searing a protein and/or aromatics over high heat in a pan on the stove and then moving it to the slow cooker.
"I focus on braises and stews, a slow cooking method where the food cooks for a long time," either in an oven or a slow cooker, she says.
She also recommends heating up the slow cooker while you’re prepping or pre-cooking the ingredients so the insert isn’t room temperature (or colder) when you add them to the cooker.
When you’re looking for recipes that are suited for a slow cooker, texture is one of the most important things to keep in mind, she says. Crispy corn fritters won’t work, but a creamy polenta would, for instance. Starchy ingredients can be cooked on a stove and then mixed in with the rest of the ingredients that have been cooked in a slow cooker, but with enough practice to get the liquid/heat/time ratio right, you can make pilafs or other rice/pasta-based dishes in a slow cooker or rice cooker.
For the most part, you want to serve the pasta or rice (or bread or tortillas) on the side.
Almost every slow cooker dish could benefit with a last minute addition of fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon or lime or a garnish of toasted nuts or breadcrumbs. "Those things can help lighten up a stewy, heavy dish," says Parker.
"Slow cookers are very practical, but there is a time and a place for it," she says.
Parker will go into greater detail about braising and many other cooking techniques in a weekly "mini culinary school" series called Simplify, which runs weekly from Feb. 4 to March 4 at Faraday’s Kitchen Store, 12918 Shops Parkway. You can sign up at faradayskitchenstore.com.
In next week’s food section, we’ll have half a dozen slow cooker recipes that are perfect for a Super Bowl party, but in the meantime, here’s one of them to show just how versatile those CrockPots can be.
Sesame Chicken Wings
One of the best things about "The Great American Slow Cooker Book" (Clarkson Potter, $25) is that each recipe includes quantities for small, medium and large slow cookers. Most of us have slow cookers that hold between four and five quarts, so the quantities in this recipe will yield about 8 servings in a slow cooker of that size.
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
5 tsp. white sesame seeds
2 tsp. ground ginger
3 1/2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
4 lb. chicken wings, cut into drumlets and winglets, flappers removed and discarded
1 1/2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
Mix the brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame seeds and ginger in the slow cooker until the brown sugar is partially dissolved.
Set a large skillet over medium heat for a few minutes and swirl in the sesame oil. Add as many wing parts as will fit without crowding; brown, turning once, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker and continue browning more as necessary. (Make sure to brown thoroughly or else the wings might get gummy in the sauce.) At the end, scrape every bit of oil and juice from the skillet into the cooker as well. Toss the wings in the sauce.
Cover and cook on low for 4 1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender and cooked through, but not yet falling off the bone.
Transfer the wings to a serving platter. Skim any surface fat from the sauce in the cooker, then pour the sauce into a medium saucepan. Stir in the vinegar and pepper; bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring often. Boil until reduced to a thick glaze, between 3 and 6 minutes. Drizzle this glaze over the wings before serving.
— From "The Great American Slow Cooker Book" by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Clarkson Potter, $25)