Winter is well and truly with us here in the Snowy Mountains.
One of the things that makes the cooler month bearable for me is the chance to get creative with slow cooked food. We’re talking stews, casseroles, soups and tajines. All those dishes that simmer away for hours, keeping you company while you do other things.
The first time I heard someone talk about their ‘Slow Cooker’, I was intrigued. As a minimalist, I’m not much of a fan of single-use kitchen appliances. But given my love of osso buco, maybe a slow cooker would be useful?
And so I conspired to include a Slow Cooking class in the curriculum for the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School, because then I’d have to get one so I would know what I was talking about…
To be honest I haven’t been that impressed with my Slow Cooker efforts, compared with my trusty old oven. The slow cooker textures have been wonderful but I’ve found things lacking in flavour.
So, to help decide whether the slow cooker should stay, I’ve conducted a little experiment cooking the same dish at the same time using the oven and the slow cooker.
first, a few definitions…
slow cooker – A stand alone electric device designed to cook things like stews and soups at very low temperatures for long periods of time.
crock pot – brand name for a particular make of slow cooker.
pressure cooker – a pot that is designed to be sealed so food can be cooked on the stove under pressure. The pressure increases the boiling temperature of water which in turn reduces cooking times. Think the dish that exploded on Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys.
Cook a simple coq au vin (chicken & red wine casserole) in the slow cooker and in a cast iron pan the oven to compare the differences.
The oven was set to 100C (210F) and the slow cooker set to HIGH. The ingredients for both were exactly the same except I used half the amount of wine in the slow cooker, as per the instruction manual.
We had a tie, of sorts.
The Slow Cooker won on texture.
The chicken from the slow cooker was noticeably moister and more tender. Although to be fair, the oven chook was still pretty tender.
The Oven won on flavour and appearance.
While the slow cooker chicken tasted like red wine with a bit of chicken flavour, the oven sample had all the lovely richness you’d expect from a great coq au vin.
In the looks department, our slow cooked bird was so pale it would be camouflaged in a snow storm, while our oven baked friend looked plump and healthy with an almost terracotta tan.
so is it worthwhile buying a slow cooker?
For me, No.
I can’t justify the space, given I work from home and enjoy having something in the oven to check on throughout the day.
For others, maybe, Yes?
If you work away from home and love slow cooked meals, I can imagine using the slow cooker quite a bit during the Winter. Or if you live somewhere without a decent oven…
video version of the experiment & recipe
note: In the video I used whole chickens, but I actually prefer to use chicken marylands (thighs with drumsticks attached) for this recipe.
Super Simple Coq au Vin
My super simple version of this classic French dish is almost the complete opposite of Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Where Julia browns her chicken and cooks the onion, mushrooms and bacon separately, I like to pop them all in together and let the long, slow cooking process work its magic.
Feel free to add to this very basic recipe. A little bacon would be my first addition. Followed by a couple of bay leaves or some thyme.
In the video I’ve used whole chickens because I was too lazy to chop them up. But next time I would go to the extra effort so the chicken pieces cook more quickly and have more surface area to soak up the wine. Or use chicken marylands or thighs on the bone.
4 chicken marylands (thighs with drumstick attached)
4 small onions, peeled & halved
8-12 large button mushrooms
4 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4cup OR 1 1/2cups red wine
1. Preheat oven to 100C (210F). Or get your slow cooker ready.
2. Place chicken, onions, mushrooms and tomato paste in an ovenproof casserole dish or the bowl of your slow cooker.
3. Pour over 3/4 cup wine for the slow cooker or 1 1/2cup for the oven method.
4. Cover with a lid. Place the slow cooker on HIGH or place the casserole in the oven and cook for 5 hours. Or until the chicken is tender and the vegetables are cooked. Taste and season.