It might be 70 degrees by week’s end, but the slow-cooker’s staying on my kitchen counter. This seasonal non-departure puts a crimp in my counterspace, yet it increases my cooking options considerably.
Inspiration comes from Antony Worrall Thompson’s new book, “Slow Cooking: 100 Recipes for the Slow Cooker, the Oven and the Stove Top” (Mitchell Beazley, 2012; $19.99). Beloved in his native Britain, the author got an early celebrity push from Diana, the late princess of Wales, who put one of his restaurants (Menage a Trois in Knightsbridge) on the map. He has written hundreds of newspaper food columns, more than 30 cookbooks and appeared on cooking competition shows long before they were star vehicles for his profession.
What Thompson brings to the slow-cooker is a chef’s skill set. He tests the range of what it can do as a piece of culinary equipment and not just as a receptacle for dump-it-in, fuss-free meals. By translating oven and stovetop cooking times into slow-cooker settings in one small and simple chart, he has provided no less than a holy grail to home cooks. Yes, he’s a firm believer in browning meats beforehand. His root vegetables are placed against the inside walls of the slow-cooker (close to the heating element) so they’ll cook faster and more evenly. His cakes and terrines benefit from the hot-water bath, or bain-marie, that surrounds them.
Therefore, many “Slow Cooking” recipes require prep via marinade or the stove top or broiler, in service of deeper flavor; a delicious side effect is that they yield some of the best, longest-lasting aromas ever to fill a home. Bottom line: A little extra effort applied to a low-energy appliance returns impressive results.