CrockPot Meals: How to Braise in a Slow Cooker
$150 or $5 thrift store find – either way, you have a slow cooker and now you want to use it. For the record, a slow cooker is not a McMansion unitasker. No, it’s the busy urban cook’s best friend. Here’s how we use our slow cooker to braise pretty much anything.
What’s braising? It’s simply browning a cut of meat or vegetables to get some good color and flavor, then cooking with a little bit of liquid in a covered pot. (See: Word of Mouth: Braise)
Your slow cooker is the ideal appliance for slow cooking; you can have an incredible meal with very little work – a meal that cooks while you’re at work all day.
• First, pick a good cut of meat to braise. Read our article on this: Why Tougher Meats Make Good Braises.
Tougher (ie cheaper!) meats with plenty of connecting collagen and muscles make wonderful slow-cooked dishes; they fall apart into those tender, melting meaty morsels. Brisket is probably our favorite cut of meat to braise.
It’s not difficult or especially expensive to find local, well-raised meats. Urban, rural, suburban – there are many options available. Mail order too. See this post for more details: How to Find Local Meat.
We just bought three pounds of stew beef yesterday – it’s from a farm less than 60 miles away, processed by a local slaughterhouse, and butchered in front of our eyes by a member of the farm at our local indoor market. It cost us only a few dollars more than grocery store, CAFO beef.
• Second – Brown your meat! Use a big skillet over high heat. We like to brown our meat in a little olive oil, then cook onions and garlic in the remaining fat. How dark do you go when browning? That’s a matter of preference, but get some good color on for flavor. We’ve carbonized the edges of meat and still had it turn out delicious!
Pour in a bit of liquid. This is flexible – a cup or two is fine. Four or more cups, depending on the size of your meat, may give you more of a stew. This is fine too. We use chicken or beef stock and wine. Really anything is fine; water will do too.
• Fourth – Set the slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours and go away.
Come home to the agonizingly pleasurable smells of roast meat, stewing in its own juices with wine and broth – simmering and ready to mopped up with no-time bread, pasta, or just some whole grains. Eat what you can, freeze the rest, and you’ve had a meal you cooked yourself with almost no trouble whatsoever.
(PS – You can skip the browning part entirely, if you’re really strapped for time; just dump in the crockpot with some herbs and wine and turn it on. We’ve done this to great success – especially with pork roasts.)