The slow cooker and I have a bit of a rocky history. As a kid, I quite vividly remember coming home from school to the smell of barbecue chicken wafting through the lid of my mom’s slow cooker – barbecue chicken whose slow 8-hour steam bath left it a stringy, mushy mess by the time it hit my dinner plate. At the tender age of 9, I awarded slow cooking my coveted blue ribbon for “Best Way to Ruin a Perfectly Good Meal.”
After countless recommendations from friends who laud the high, holy merits of the slow cooker, we’ve started talking again. Nothing crazy, totally “first base” stuff, just feeling each other out. And what I’m starting to realize is that I’ve kind of been missing out on a kitchen tool that, when used correctly, makes wicked delicious food.
When used correctly. Those are the keywords that are really going to make this thing between the slow cooker and I work this time around. My mom didn’t realize that super lean meats (e.g., chicken breasts) don’t do well with being cooked for that long. The slow cooker’s true powers shine when paired with tough, fatty cuts of meat that need hours of cooking to break down and tenderize.
Take a pork shoulder, for instance. When left to simmer low and slow all day long, the results are magical. Tough butcher counter cuts are transformed into tender, juicy hunks of meaty meaty bliss – bliss that only takes a few minutes of prep time and then needs only to be left to do its thing while you go about your day. My husband and I love the recipe below because of its bold flavor and short ingredient list. Prep everything in the morning (or even the night before), turn on the slow cooker when you leave and walk home to instant dinner.
We may just have a future after all, this slow cooker and I.
Yield: 4 to 6 serving
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 to 8 hours (inactive)
Total Time: 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours
2 tablespoons peanut or olive oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 1/2 to 2 cups coconut water
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
5 to 6 scallions, coarsely chopped
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with the oil. Working in batches, sear off the meat, browning well on all sides, about 15 minutes total.
Transfer the meat to the crock of a slow cooker, and add the fish sauce and enough coconut water to cover the meat by about two-thirds. (NOTE: This dish can be prepared up to this point and then stored in the refrigerator overnight to be cooked the next day.)
Turn on the slow cooker and simmer the meat until fork tender, about 6 hours on high heat or 8 hours on low heat. Serve warm with a few spoonfuls of the braising liquid and a hearty garnish of cilantro and scallions.
This dish is incredibly satisfying but very rich. Temper its heartiness and make it into a complete meal with a side serving of steamed white rice.
Don’t cut corners on browning the meat off – if anything, let it sear a bit longer than you think you should. It’s a critical cornerstone to keeping the flavor of this dish from washing out in the slow cooker.
NOTE: If you don’t own a slow cooker, you can still prepare this dish on the stovetop. Simply sear off the meat in a heavy-bottom Dutch oven, add the liquids to the pot and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the meat is fork tender, about 2 hours.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary team for Food Network stars like Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest Tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.