One of my favorite things to do in fall and winter, is pull out the old crock pot. Few things give me more pleasure than curling up on a grey Sunday to watch a movie while a stew slowly simmers in the kitchen. I got my first crock pot in about 2004 or 2005, and since then I have read and tried out tons of crock pot recipes. It’s a simple concept: meat and vegetables in a small amount of liquid cooked on low heat for a long time. However, I do have one small problem. There seems to be a widely held belief floating around, that you can just throw everything in the pot at once, turn it on, and walk away for six hours. This concept distresses me because, well, it’s just not true.
I’ve heard people say they don’t use their crock pots because the food doesn’t come well, and if you just throw everything in there and walk away, then no, your dinner will not be yummy. Here’s the thing…crock pots ARE easy once you walk away. But before you walk away, you need to put in probably about thirty to forty five minutes of prep work. This is the main reason why crocking for me, is a lazy weekend activity. And the absolute, hands down, number one, MOST important thing you have to do in preparation, is sear the meat! If you do nothing else, do this. Without this step, your stew will lack flavor and you will be sad. And if you’re using bone-in chicken, take the skin off first then sear the meat, because the skin will just get gross in there after six or eight hours.
Now I realize thirty to forty five minutes may sound a bit tedious, but I like to cook, so for me it’s part of the fun. And that’s how long it always seems to take me to wash and chop vegetables, peel and crush garlic, zest or sautee something, and of course, season and sear the meat.
There’s a cooking site I love called Easy-French-Food.com, and on it there is a recipe for “Roti de Porc a la mijoteuse.” This is a pork roast with vegetables cooked in a crock pot. The kicker with this recipe is the dijon mustard which is smeared all over the meat. If you’re thinking the mustard would be too spicy or pungent, you are wrong my friends. The mustard mellows down beautifully, especially when you add white wine. It’s also easy to substitute boneless/skinless chicken breasts, which come out fall apart tender when they are crocked in a pot. I always seem to have chicken breasts around, so I make this with chicken all the time. I’ve streamlined the recipe for myself, and it takes me exactly thirty minutes to prep everything, and start crocking. Here’s what I use:
- About 2lbs. boneless/skinless chicken because that’s about all my pot will hold
- One large-ish onion roughly chopped and sautéed in butter. I also sprinkle on a large pinch of sugar while sautéing to bring out the sweetness of the onion
- Two or three large carrots cut into 1-2 inch chunks
- A package of mushrooms
- About one teaspoon of dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, fennel, or any combination if you like
- One to one and a half cups of liquid. For this recipe I often use 1 cup white wine, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth. Or you could use all wine or all broth
- Dijon mustard
I never measure the mustard. I just scoop and smear enough to generously cover the meat. It probably ends up being about 1/4 cup. Happily, it’s not an exact science. With regard to the herbs. The French recipe calls for a “bouquet garni” which is just a collection of fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and sage, tied with string. The purpose of tying them together is so this bundle can be pulled out at the end. If you don’t have fresh herbs, don’t sweat it. You can use dried if you have them (about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp). But if you leave them out all together, the stew will still be delicious. The stars of this dish are the mustard and the wine. If you’re wondering if you could throw in some potatoes, you absolutely could. I, however, have learned that roasting some yams with a little coconut oil and a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg adds a heavenly layer of flavor. I know this probably sounds crazy to you, but trust me……
So, the moral of this story is crockpots are very forgiving creatures. Follow whichever recipe you have, but know that almost anything can be tweaked to your liking. When I use broth it’s usually low sodium, and in that case I add back in 1/4 teaspoon salt. I find that’s not necessary with full sodium broth. And finally…the number one, hands down, MOST important thing…the whole reason for this post…SEAR THE MEAT even if the recipe doesn’t state it. Happy crocking.