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Another Crockpot Debacle

  • b

I love the idea of crockpot cooking, but I've been uniformly disappointed by the results. I find that meat tenderizes nicely in the crockpot, but flavor doesn't develop in the same way as on the stovetop. This week I made my favorite beef stew recipe(the Zinfandel of Beef from Julia Childs' "The Way to Cook"). I've made this dish on the stovetop many times, with stellar results. To adapt the recipe to the crockpot, I cut down on the liquids, browned the beef, onions and carrots before putting them in the crockpot, but basically stuck to the original recipe. The results were amazingly dull. The beef was very tender, but it had no real flavor. I ended up simmering the sauce on the stovetop with salt and a roux to make it palatable. I also have done a beef brisket recipe (again, stellar when slow-cooked in an oven) in the crockpot, and it had the same strange lack of flavor, even though the meat texture was good.

What am I doing wrong? Do people have suggestions on what types of recipes work well in a crockpot?

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  1. I use mine a good deal, but am only now getting the courage to step very far. However, things like pulled pork come off tremendously well in one. Also the corned beef/cabbage works well. Chili also finishes nicely in them.

    I tried a chicken chile dish I got here recently. While not bad, it was a little too soupy and overly "straight ahead", which I guess I mean too much like a package meal when done. But it holds hope.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dennis S

      I agree -- we make some *fantastic* pulled pork in the crockpot. We always marinate the meat overnight...so no problems with blandness.

      (We also keep it going with mulled cider for much of the winter.)

    2. I've never understood the lure of the crockpot. The lowest oven setting accomplishes the same thing, but with *even heating all around*.

      Crockpots are like microwaves IMO, to be used to re-heat or serve already cooked food.

      (I know there are huge crock-pot fans--don't take it personally!)

      4 Replies
      1. re: Funwithfood

        I'm not a crock pot fan, but there are a couple of very nice times for them:
        - When taking something to another locale, especially a potluck where space in the oven or on the stove may be limited
        - at your own house where the same is true.

        Do they use less electricity too for the amount you're cooking?

        1. re: Funwithfood

          The crockpot's major benefit -- compared to the oven, which does produce superior results -- is SAFETY when one is not in the house.

          Leaving an oven on when one's house is empty for 8+ hours is riskier than leaving the crockpot on a low setting for that period of time. Very simple.

          That being said, the crockpot does produce a superior turkey breast on low than an oven-braised item, though the latter produces a better sauce....

          1. re: Karl S.

            "Leaving an oven on when one's house is empty for 8+ hours is riskier than leaving the crockpot on a low setting for that period of time. Very simple."

            How do you know that?

            1. re: rudeboy

              I have a gas oven. One does not leave a gas oven burning unattended for hours in a multi-family dwelling. Things do happen.

        2. A friend of mine actually took his crockpot out into the yard and shot it with a shotgun. (He lives on a farm.) I just don't hardly ever use mine and have found there is absolutely nothing that it does better than some other way. In the process of discovering this truth I had to bear my wife's looks of disgust and pity when I took it out of the cupboard.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Steve

            Ha ha. I've realized I can't even attempt crockpot cookery in my marriage. My MIL (not a good cook to begin with) ruined it for my husband growing up - think Campbell's cream of mushroom soup-type dishes, in the crockpot! By definition anything that comes out of a crockpot is inedible to him. I tried once to convince him otherwise but could see it was hopeless.

          2. does anyone have a great recipe that does not require much pree cooking out of the crock pot?

            1. c
              culinary nerd

              My advice is to ditch the crockpot and use a pressure cooker instead. You get the same texture as a long cooked item and more flavor than you get from a crockpot. Cleanup is easy if it is a stovetop model. No breakable crockery inserts.

              Far and away one of my favorite bits of cooking equipment and you get complex, strongly developed flavors out of it.

              1. I tend to use mine only for very simple tasks, e.g. making beans. I wonder though, when you browned the meat and vegetables, did you deglaze the browning pan and then pour that liquid and all the tasty bits into the crockpot?

                2 Replies
                1. re: nja

                  Yup. Beans. I use my crockpot for 1) beans, 2) serving hot beverages at parties, 3) serving stews or meatballs or such at parties if the chafing dishes are full and 4) beans. I love to make chickpea stews and things in the crockpot overnight. I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving the gas on and going to work or bed, but I leave the crockpot on all the time. That said, I didn't use the thing until about two years ago and I've had it for ten years. I could definitely still live without it.

                  1. re: nja

                    Yup, I did save all the tasty bits, and there were lots of tasty bits. I deglazed with the red wine. If I'd done this on the stovetop, it would have been delicious!

                  2. I have used the same crockpot for the past 20 years without difficulty and without replacing the crockery insert.

                    I use it for beans mostly and I think the results are better than the stove method. Also, it allows me to leave the house while the beans are cooking. I will not leave the stove or oven on while I am gone.

                    It is also very convenient to warm food at the office for a potluck or to hold food at a safe temperature.

                    It is ONE method of cooking but it has its limits as does a broiler, a stovetop and any other kitchen appliance.

                    I would not do a stew in a crockpot. Part of the attraction of doing a stew or shortribs or beef shanks is the sauce which requires some reduction That CANNOT be accomplished in a crockpot which does not allow the escape of the water vapor.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jlawrence01

                      Why wouldn't you do a stew in your crockpot? My formerly midwestern hubby got a wistful look a few weeks ago and said something about wanting a crockpot, so when I found a (reputedly) good Rival, I bought it. What, other than beans, might one successfully cook in one? And I'm bummed about the no stew recommendation, as that's why I bought it (mostly).

                      1. re: missliss

                        As my in-laws are farmers and butcher beef occasionally, I get a lot of the less tender cuts like oxtails, shanks, etc. To cook these, I generally brown the meat product in a dutch oven or a heavy skillet. Then, I add a variety of vegetables and tomato paste to the pan, deglaze the pan with some sort of red wine. This extracts a lot of the flavor and develops a nice rich sauce that is the basis of the stew.

                        Now I can make a pot roast in a crock pot and make it relatively flavor filled and the meat is tender. However, you don't get a sauce as you get more of a broth.

                        Experiment with it a bit and see what you come up with.

                    2. I make soups, pulled pork, vietnamese lettuce rolls, and a cranberry-port pork roast that gets raves every time I make it.

                      I've recommended it here before- if you're serious about wanting good recipes, you really should invest in Healthy Crockery Cookery by Mable Hoffman. It's $10 through Amazon and you're practically guaranteed to get at least one recipe you like out of it.

                      Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/...

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Chris VR

                        Would you please post recipes for the pulled pork and that cranberry port pot roast?

                        1. re: Wilie

                          I can't find the pulled pork recipe- it was a simple recipe anyway, something I googled. Just cooking it in cider, maybe a few other ingredients. Try googling and see what you find.

                          I probably won't have time to type in the cranberry pork roast recipe any time soon, but as I mentioned, it's in Mable Hoffman's cookbook, which is only $10 or so on Amazon and well worth the investmentl.

                          1. re: Chris VR

                            Sorry, that should have said cooking the pori in VINEGAR, not cider. I think I was thinking cider vinegar, although the recipe as I remember it used white vinegar. Sorry for the confusion.

                            1. re: Chris VR

                              How much water do you usually add? Some call for covering the shoulder but I'm not a huge fan of pork broth. Sounds as bad as boiling ribs. Thanks!

                      2. I make a Beef and Guinnes stew and Coq Au Vin and a Mexican Almond Chicken in my crockpot that all turn out wonderfully -- but I did have one debacle happen once, with the beef stew, which I had made successfully a number of times before that. I figured out what the problem was -- I neglected to salt the stew before I put the lid on and started the crockpot -- the meat came out bland and flavorless, and adding the salt later didn't fix the problem. Adding the salt early on makes all the difference, as the flavor can then really penetrate the meat. I don't add all the salt I'll need -- you can re-adjust once the cooking is done -- but I make sure to season the meat well before I add it to the crockpot.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Hailyn

                          Are you willing to share the mexican almond chicken recipe? I would really appreciate it!

                          1. re: Hailyn

                            I'd like the chicken-almond recipe too! Thanks in advance. mary

                            1. re: Hailyn

                              Beef and guiness stew recipe would be appreciated also.

                              1. re: Willie

                                I've made this so many times, I don't bother to measure any more, so the following measurements are only approximations -- fiddle with it as you see fit. Also, I vary the herbs based on what I have available; I often omit the orange peel and use some more rosemary or fresh marjoram. If I'm serving the stew with mashed potatoes, I'll omit the potatoes. Also, the recipe turns into a yummy variation of boeuf bourguignon if you use red wine instead of stout. Tastes even better the next day.

                                If you want to use a conventional cooking method, I think 1 1/2 - 2 hours in a covered casserole dish or braiser at 300 degrees would do the trick.

                                Beef & Guinness Stew

                                Olive oil
                                3 lb. stew beef (chuck or round), cut into large cubes and trimmed
                                6 tablespoons flour
                                2 large onions, halved and sliced
                                3 stalks celery
                                ½ lb. carrots, peeled and cut
                                ½ lb. baby potatoes, halved
                                ½ pint button mushrooms, stems removed and quartered lengthwise
                                6 cloves garlic
                                2 tblsp tomato paste
                                2 ½ cups Guinness or other stout
                                1 bouquet garni (3 bay leaves, 2 sprigs rosemary, thyme, parsley, 3 strips orange peel, tied together with string)
                                salt and pepper
                                chopped flat-leaf parsley

                                Put celery stalks (uncut), potatoes, and carrots into bottom of crock pot. Season flour with salt and pepper; dredge beef in flour until well coated. In medium sauté pan, saute onions in olive oil until soft and golden; layer over the ingredients in crock pot. Add bouquet garni and garlic to crockpot. Heat olive oil in pan until hot; sear dredged beef in batches until well-browned on all sides; add to crockpot. Add Guinness and tomato paste to sauté pan and heat until boiling, scraping all of browned bits into the mixture; boil for one minute. Season Guinness mixture with salt; pour into crock pot. Cook at low for 5-6 hours, or high for 3-4 hours. Add mushrooms for last hour of cooking. Skim off extra fat (or chill overnight and remove fat; reheat for serving the next day); remove bouquet garni and celery stalks (and garlic cloves, if desired); adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and black pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes or lots of crusty bread.

                            2. I don't have one myself, but I wouldn't think you could use the same recipe in a crockpot that you would for something where you reduce the sauce on the stove. I make a chinese beef stew for beef noodles where I keep the volume constant, and I definitely have to start the recipe more salty and generally flavor-dense than I would with a "reducing" recipe.

                              I guess this is the same point that someone else has made in this thread. In fact, I generally make it slightly saltier than I would like to eat it, then dilute it a bit at the end. If you go too far, though, than the meat will be too salty, which no dilution will overcome.