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with Chef Domenica Catelli

Domenica Catelli's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

To Slow Cook or Not to Slow Cook? That is the question…

slow cooker

iStockphoto

It starting to come back in vogue to utilize a slow cooker or crock pot. In general, I am someone who likes to get great, healthy food on the table fast. I don’t always do well with things that are slow. However, the amount of time it takes to prepare ingredients for the slow cooker *is* fast and I like that you don’t have to think about it again until it’s time to eat. 

Here are some tips on ways to revitalize flavor, reverse bad past crock-pot experiences, and have a healthy, savory meal that is not an overcooked pile of mush.

The first and most important tip to having a delicious crock pot meal is to choose the right type of ingredients. This is where you should utilize ingredients that take longer to cook like traditionally tough cuts of meat. These include brisket, pork butt, or an entire chicken. (By the way, these are traditionally less expensive meats. So, if you are trying to budget for meals, this is a great way to help with that—or if you are trying to budget for organic ingredients, this is where you can upgrade to organic or natural cuts of meat.). When cooked for so many hours, these tougher meats taste great and fall off the bone easily. And, you get the added benefit of pulling nutrients from the bone.

If you’ve had a bad experience with a crock pot, most likely you’ve participated in the biggest mistake: Do not use canned vegetables in a slow cooker. Period. Ever. Using canned vegetables in a crock pot recipe will simply turn your meal into a vegetable smoothie. Canned vegetables are already overcooked when they are put in the can. Cooking them for another 6-8 hours will disintegrate them. Potatoes, carrot, onions, and other firm veggies do well in a slow cooker. Using canned tomatoes is fine—mostly because you will probably be using them in a sauce so they hold up well. Absolute no-no’s: canned green beans, canned corn, and canned peas. Actually, let me go ahead and advise you to NEVER use these canned vegetables if you can help it.

Under seasoning is another mistake I see people make all the time. Since the food is cooking there for so long—the equivalent of a long, slow boil—there needs to be a few levels of flavors. There are a couple ways to do this. If you are making a meat or bean dish, I suggest sautéing savories like onions, shallots, or garlic in extra virgin olive oil first before you put in the crock pot. The flavors seep into the oil better if you take this extra step.

Also, add fresh cut herbs at the very end or a squeeze of lemon or lime to brighten up the dish and give fresh flavor quickly.

Add ingredients that are high in flavor. For example fire roasted tomatoes or fire-roasted chilies. Another tip is that adding a ½ piece of bacon cut into small pieces will add tons of flavor without all the fat. A ½ a piece of bacon has about 1.5 grams of fat, depending on the size. Not bad for adding another dimension of smoky, delicious flavor. Can you tell I’m a fan of bacon?

Here are some easy crock pot tips for the ultimate chicken soup. Take an entire chicken, quartered and bone in, cover with enough water to cover the chicken. For every four cups of water, throw in a 1-2 inch piece of ginger root, and about 4 whole garlic cloves. Then add carrots, celery, and onions and cook for eight hours on the low setting, or four hours on high. At the end, add fresh cut parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

The slow cooker pulls out the flavor in this traditional soup in ways that you wouldn’t experience if it was cooked quickly. And, not only do you get the nutrition in the bones, but the chicken falling off the bone.

You can also use the slow cooker for a healthy, delicious breakfast. Throw in steel cut oats and water and about a teaspoon of cinnamon and slow cook over night. You can also add dried fruits like apples or apricots—these will rehydrate and add great nutrition and flavor.

Yes, it’s slow, but worth the wait. Enjoy the delicious benefits of your crock pot while winter is upon us.

Until next time, stay fresh and delicious!

~ Chef Domenica

Posted by: Chef Domenica Catelli at 5:39 pm

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