At about this point each January, the urgency of finding ways to cook lighter gives way to the fervent search for something, anything, novel to whip up in a slow-cooker.
So the book whose title has a Gallic adjective preceding the generic term for Crock-Pot has been eagerly anticipated; one mildly indignant reader e-mailed to ask why I’d left it off the Food section’s list of best cookbooks for 2011. “The French Slow Cooker” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012; $22) is author Michele Scicolone’s follow-up to her 2010 “Italian Slow Cooker,” which became a bestseller with its ragus, long-simmered beans and frittatas.
You’d be right to expect versions of cassoulet and choucroute among the 125 recipes in “French,” but you might be surprised to find souffles, country pâtéand far Breton, which is a kind of clafoutis. Using these recipes, you, too, can become adept at Scicolone’s techniques, such as slow-cooker “baking,” wherein a loaf pan or bowl or ramekins are seated atop a rack or makeshift ring of crumpled aluminum foil. Baking the Queen of Sheba cake felt akin to using an Easy-Bake oven. But the cake certainly stayed moist.
Some “French Slow Cooker” recipes call for a little fussing before or after the allotted cooking time: sauteing onions in butter; adding an extra pinch of dried herbs just before the dish is done. Those things are worth doing. And some recipe results might not be what you’d expect; the Spicy Curried Pork, in fact, turns out to be a fairly tame stew unless you ramp up the heat of the curry powder and go for cayenne rather than piment d’espelette.
The author’s tips are sound and can be applied to a wider field of slow-cooker recipes, and novices might be happy to find directions that in many cases take up less space on the page than the list of ingredients. The effort amounts to French cooking made easy — even if some of it has been slightly watered down by the condensation from a glass lid.
Got slow-cooker questions? Michele Scicolone will join today’s Free Range chat at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.