Art of the Slow Cooker – 80 Exciting New Recipes
SLOW COOKERS CONSIST OF THREE PARTS: (1) a metal casing, which contains an electric heating element and heat controls; (2) a ceramic insert, or crock, which fits inside the metal casing; and (3) a lid. (For more details, see Choosing a Slow Cooker, page 12.) The main benefit of slow cooking derives from the heating properties of ceramic. The material heats up slowly and gives off heat gradually. Provided that the heat source is steady and controlled, a ceramic pot can warm food to a set temperature and keep it there for hours without fear of scorching or overheating.
On the other hand, ceramic pots are terrible for browning or searing. In cooking, brown is not just a color. It is a flavor- the flavor of succulence, which is why most of my slow cooker recipes start by browning ingredients in a skillet. During browning, sugars and proteins on the surface of meats and vegetables caramelize, transforming into hundreds of highly charged aromatic flavor components.
This is why we make a bad trade-off when we see slow cooking as merely a dump-and-heat cooking method. You may get something hot for dinner, but that’s about it. I say take a little more time, dirty another pan, and create food that will not just fill the belly, but delight the senses as well.
This initial cooking step outside of the slow cooker releases the fat-soluble aromatics in onions and garlic, as well as the scents of herbs and spices, and gives them a head start in the cooking process. The hard fibers of root vegetables soften, which helps them to cook more evenly, giving you a chance to perfect a sauce.
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