Thursday, November 4, 2010

Crockpot Conversations

"what I got...I said remember that... ":)

by special request...more of an article, this time :) Never fear, recipes will be included at the end !!

I'm a relative newcomer to the wonderful world of crockpot cookery. I'm usually too far behind in the morning to do much (what with the sleeping, the working out, and breakfast with the kid...yeah, I should get up earlier, but 5:30 AM already seems too early !! ) and until a few years ago I didn't own a crockpot with an insert that I could fill the night before (sticking the whole thing, plug and all, in the fridge didn't seem like a great option.) My little sister was nice enough to upgrade my equipment one Christmas, which neatly took care of that issue...but then the problem was finding dishes that met my exacting C.O. standards. I want the good stuff - an aromatic, flavorful, hearty meal that can cook on low for the 9 - 10 hours I'm at work and not be overcooked. Through trial and error, I've discovered what works well for me, and what doesn't.

I think the first rule is that you have to go with the right cut of meat (unless you are doing a veggie dish like ratatouille...but that's more of a half day deal). Boneless, skinless chicken breast just doesn't seem to hold up well in a crockpot for 10 hours. I do often make whole chickens, which work out wonderfully...the trick with those is to get the biggest one I can jam in the crockpot, because it's going to be falling apart tender when it's done and the bigger ones retain a bit more structural integrity. Chicken thighs are the perfect crockpot denizens, as they have the flavor to stand up to long cooking.  Most ways I do the thighs involve liquid that pretty much covers them, so taking the skin off is indeed essential - not because it's better for you (which it is), but because submerged skin won't do that lovely crispy thing, even if you brown it first.

Speaking of browning, it really does improve the flavor substantially, so my second rule is that you should do it whenver the recipe calls for it and you have the time. I've skipped it and ended up with decent results, but it really does give you a much nicer dish.

Pork products are usually great in crockpot applications....well, maybe not pork chops themselves, though my mother has a recipe she's been trying to get me to make for years which she may tell you about :). Ham and sausages, though, are just perfect - usually with some sort of legume, a match made in heaven. The long cooking time just gets all of the love out of the pig and into the beans. By far, the best has been cassoulet...which is just all kinds of delicious anyway, and the crockpot makes it easy. One of the best things about it is it takes to so many combinations of meats...a combination of smoked, cured, and regular is what you're going for, but it doesn't matter which one is which. I know the next one I make is going to involve smoked turkey legs and a chicken liver stock, among other things. Usually cassoulet is topped with breadcrumbs before baking, but in the crockpot version you just toast up the breadcrumbs in some butter when you get home and scatter them over the pot. Mmmm.....getting excited just thinking about it !

I don't tend to do a lot of beef in the crockpot - I know beef stew is definitely a popular crockpot dish, but my guys love my regular beef stew so much that I think there would be a revolt if I changed anything. The one beef dish I do regularly make in the crockpot is Guinness Pot Roast. I was never a great pot roast maker until I came up with this's really simple and really, really, REALLY good. Both the pot roast and one of the chicken recipes call for onion soup mix, which brings me to my third and fourth rule - #3 is make sure you season well, and don't be afraid to taste and season again when you get home. A long stint in the pot can really dull some seasonings, and there's no reason for anything to be bland. While I am not a huge mix person, the onion soup mix really works well for crockpot  applications, as it holds up to long cooking and has plenty of flavor. Rule #4 is that you really don't need as much liquid as you think. The crockpot is sealed, so all of the lovely juices from your ingredients are going to stay right there and not steam off. Rule 4A is that if you do prep the night before, don't add the liquid until the next morning before you leave - you don't want that small amount of liquid to soak in before you get to cook with it !

And now the really good stuff...the recipes !

Coq au Vin

This is what started the idea for this article...last night's dinner. Adaptation from BH+G.

4 pounds  chicken thighs, skinned
olive oil
1 envelope onion soup mix (Lipton Golden is my personal favorite.
2 cups pearl onions (tricolor if you can find them; otherwise white work just fine) 
3 cups mushrooms - Baby Bellas cut in half work great
3/4 cup  red wine

Mashed Potatoes, for serving (my current favorite : red, skin on, with mascarpone, salt and pepper mixed in before mashing)


Lightly oil a large heavy skillet. Cook chicken thighs, several at a time, in the hot skillet until brown. Layer half the chicken, half the mushrooms, and half the onions. Sprinkle with half the soup mix, then repeat the whole thing. Right before cooking, pour wine over the whole thing. Cook 8 - 9 hours on LOW.

Chicken and Dumplings

another BH+G adaptation. This one takes 30 minutes when you get home for the gravy and dumplings, but it is so worth it.

2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped potatoes
2 leeks, chopped
1 cup chopped parsnips
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 t dried sage
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground pepper
2 lbs boneless skinless thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 cups chicken stock
2 T butter
2 T flour

for dumplings :

1/2 c flour
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c buttermilk

For stew : combine vegetables in slow cooker and top with chicken. Pour stock over chicken, cook on low 8 - 10 hours. Turn heat to high. Melt butter in small saucepan and whisk in flour to make roux. Whisk in broth from stew, a ladleful at a time, until you have a nice gravy. Stir this back into stew.

For dumplings : combine dry ingredients and cheese. In a separate bowl combine egg and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and stir until moist. Drop by large spoonfuls on top of stew, cover, and cook for 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in dumpling comes out clean.

Whole Chicken in Crockpot

1 cup celery sticks
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup pearl onions
1 small container baby potatoes, left whole  (I think they are 24 oz - clear plastic box)
1 whole chicken - 5-7 lbs
1 lemon, cut in half
4 - 6 cloves garlic
kosher salt
cracked black pepper

Spread veggies and potatoes in bottom of crockpot. Place lemon halves and garlic cloves in cavity of chicken. Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt, pepper and paprika. Cook on LOW 8 hours. Serve with Crockpot Gravy (see below)

Guinness Pot Roast

4-5 lb pot roast
1 envelope onion soup
8 small onions
1 small container baby potatoes, left whole
1/2 small bag baby carrots
salt and pepper
1 can Guinness

Salt and pepper roast, and brown on all sides in a skillet. Place on top of veggies in crockpot and sprinkle with soup mix. Pour Guinness over the whole thing. Cook 5 hours on HIGH or 8 -10 on LOW. Serve with Crockpot Gravy

Crockpot Gravy

Whisk 2 T flour and 2 T cold water until smooth. You can either then put this directly in the crockpot, turn to HIGH, and cover and cook until thick (10 minutes or so) - or, you can remove your cooking liquid to a small saucepan, heat it, whisk in the flour mixture, and simmer until thick. I prefer this method.

Ratatouille in a Crockpot

This is the recipe I usually use - . Comes out perfectly, and really - why mess with success ??

Crockpot Cassoulet
This is a basic recipe, well suited for swapping ingredients around or adding more of what you love. I love adding half a cooked duck (usually available at Whole Foods) for at least some of the chicken, and smoked turkey parts are nice too. Leftover ham works really well, as does leftover roast pork. Just make sure you have a mix…a ham type item, some poultry, and a sausage are what you need to make the beans sing.
2 ham hocks
2 cups dried white navy beans, soaked, drained and rinsed
1 T olive oil
2 onions,  chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, peeled and diced
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 tsp. dried rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves ( or 3/4 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock or water (approx.)
6 (4 oz.) chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
12 ounces Andouille sausage
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 T butter
1 T chopped parsley

In slow cooker stoneware, combine ham hocks and beans.
In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until softened. Add rosemary, thyme and bay leaf and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to slow cooker stoneware. Add meats, and chicken stock. Cook on low 8 – 10 hours.
For topping, melt butter in skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toast until golden. Mix in parsley, sprinkle over cassoulet.


  1. I love you. This will help get me out of my crockpot rut! Thanks!

  2. How about some ham and bean recipes? I've been looking for a good one. My pork one is more for the "keep it simple folks." Place a pork roast or any other cut of pork, (it all works), add a can of whole cranberries (has to be whole berries or it won't work) on top and let it roll. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Do not add anything else for it kills the canberries Serve over mashed potatoes.

  3. totally awesome! thank you so can I magically win a ticket to YOUR house for the NCC dinner evening.....I didn't say that.

  4. How did I miss this the other day??? I love it. Funny, I pulled my crock pot out of the attic where it's been for a couple of years. I made pulled pork that was KILLER. Put on the rub, tossed it in with a cup of water and 8 hours later, we had the best pulled pork sandwiches ever! Thanks for including the recipes too....cassoulet...culinary orgasm!!

  5. Damn girl...go on with your bad self...