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Crock Pot Secrets

Posted on: February 19th, 2013

Crock-pots are a great tool for the busy cook, slowly braising less expensive cuts and rendering them falling-apart tender – all while you’re off at work. There is no need for stirring and you don’t have to worry about the pan scorching, just set it and forget it. Here are some tips and professional secrets to get the most out of your crock-pot!

Plan Ahead
For starters, you’ll need all your ingredients on hand and thawed before you can start; so peek at your recipe before you come to Tony’s so you can have everything on hand when needed.

Chop The Night Before
Go ahead and do your prep work when you are in the kitchen anyways one or two days before. Peel and chop the carrots, potatoes, onions, etc., wrap and refrigerate, or in the case of potatoes, put them in a bowl of cold water to keep them from turning brown. Also make sure your meats are thawed.

Brown Your Meats For More Flavor
Browning is a series chemical reactions that adds new flavors and complexity to your dish. Sure, your recipe will still work without browning first, but the extra flavor is definitely worth a few minutes.

 

Tony’s Market Perfect Pot Roast

Choose the Right Cut
The best cuts of meat for braising are generally the least expensive. For beef, I feel the best cuts come from The Chuck, as well as the shanks. With poultry I suggest legs and thighs; for lamb I suggest the shanks or front shoulders; for pork I love the shanks and shoulder (AKA butt, who knows why), shank and picnic ham.

Easy With the Water
Crock-pots cook covered and with low heat, so there is far less water lost to evaporation than other cooking methods – so it’s important not to add too much at the beginning. You can always add more later!

Don’t Lift the Lid!
Resist the urge to lift the lid and stir, that just slows things down

Add Great Stock
Braising makes stock, but for a deeper flavor, I like adding a little stock concentrate. Sadly most of the stocks and concentrates are flavored with salt and chemicals and are overly salty. I strongly suggest More Than Gourmet stock concentrates; they’re made the old fashion way, are low in sodium and use no chemical flavorings. I also like to use more than one type of stock; beef is great, but a little beef and a little vegetable stock is even better. The more different ingredients you use, the more complexity of flavor you’ll get in your dish.

Thickening Slurry
First estimate the total amount of liquid to thicken, then make a thickening slurry to match. Generally, for each cup of medium-thick sauce you’ll need about 2 tsp flour whisked into ¼ cup of cold liquid (water, milk or cooled jus from your dish), or 1 TBS cornstarch with 1-2 TBS cold water.

Thickening Procedure
When your dish is done, drain the juices to a second pot and bring to a boil. Whisk the estimated amount of thickener with cold liquid to create a slurry, and then temper it into your dish (add some hot jus to the slurry, whisk, adding a little more, whisk, and then slowly whisk the warmed slurry into your dish).  Flour needs 5-10 minutes simmering to thicken, and cornstarch reaches maximum thickening when it comes to a boil. You can also puree some of the vegetables and add them back to your dish to thicken.

Braised Beef and Butternut Marsala over polenta, get the recipe here.

Cooking Times
Crockpots can vary, but generally low is about 200° and high is about 300° – and one hour on high is equal to about 2 hours on low.  Generally, beef cuts are best cooked about 8-10 hours on low, and chicken about 5-6 hours on low, or 2.5-3 hours on high. When in doubt, cook it on low overnight or all day long.

Warming your meat and veg to room temperature before cooking will speed cooking by several hours – be safe, don’t leave them out more that 2-3 hours before cooking.

Vegetables
Hard vegetables like carrots, potatoes and winter squash can be added at the beginning of cooking for a very soft texture, or about half the way through for a firm texture. For soft veggies like peppers, zucchini, mushrooms or frozen vegetables during the last hour of cooking.

Old Fashion Beef Stew is easy in the crock-pot, this photo is courtesy of the Beef Marketing Board.

Procedure Tips
If time allows, pull out all your ingredients out of the refrigerator and let them warm on the counter for 1-3 hours. Preheat a large, heavy pan over medium high heat, add a drizzle of oil and add your seasoned meats to the pan. Cook undisturbed until a nice brown crust develops, turn and repeat, browning all the sides well, then remove the meat to the crock-pot.  Add a cup of water, stock or wine from your recipe to the pan and bring to a boil, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits in the bottom of the pan (and doing most of your pan cleanup at the same time!). Add the juices to the crock-pot with all the remaining ingredients and start cooking!

 

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