Why do my slow cooker recipes always taste bad?
Hey folks. I bought a slow cooker a while back because I have a job where I work an afternoon/evening shift, and I thought it would be convenient to start something cooking when I go to bed (midnight-ish) and have a pot of food ready when I wake up in the morning. However, the damn thing has ruined some of my favorite recipes, and I'm not sure why.
I absolutely love stuffed cabbage in a sweet tomato sauce, but the one time I made it in the slow cooker, it came out bland and dry, with an unpleasant and unfamiliar texture. I've tried making short ribs twice, with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and celery, using slightly different recipes each time. Once I used a beef broth base, and the second time I used more barbecue sauce for a smoky, tangy flavor. Even though I browned the short ribs in a pan first both times, the dishes came out disappointing, with a tinny, metallic taste. The second time, I literally threw up after eating it... a major embarrassment, although luckily I was the only one who had sampled it.
This past weekend, I attempted slow cooker chili, whereas I usually just simmer it on the stovetop for an hour or two. This was another all-night affair, on low heat for eight hours. I used lean ground beef (which I browned in a pan first), canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste, onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, diced jalapenos, diced chipotles from a can with adobo sauce (which I also added), and some shaved semisweet baker's chocolate and a bit of sugar to cut all the acid. It came out a lot darker red than I am used to, and it also had some of that metallic taste to it. I feel obliged to eat it, rather than waste all those ingredients, but it's the worst chili I've ever made.
So what am I doing wrong? Is it the long cooking times? I figure that with enough liquid, things should be able to simmer overnight and not be harmed, but I may be wrong. Is it just the slow cooker itself? I recently made my first pot of real gumbo, with a roux and everything, and it was a successful experiment because I used the stove -- I didn't dare ruin it in the slow cooker. I may just quit using it completely. Thoughts?
In contrast to 'Samuelinthekitchen', I've had excellent success with my crockpots. The key is that the crockpot is not simply an even substitution for a stove-top or oven preparation, simply with a longer cook time. The lower temperature affects different dishes in different ways, and for some, you can't replicate it all in a crockpot.
Take chili - when I make it, I brown the onion and peppers to caramelize them, then add the dry spices to "toast" them a bit. You can't really do that in a crock pot, so those vegetables and spices would come out more one-dimensional. Many crock-pot recipes actually call for searing, browning, or caramelizing on a stove top first, then putting all ingredients into the crockpot. That way, you get the best of both worlds, even though it's not as convenient as all in a crockpot.
The 2 recipes I've had the best luck with tend to be the simplest. One is a chicken thigh stew - thighs, carrots, garlic cloves, white wine, and thyme. Lot's of all of them. 8 hours on low, and there's plenty of flavor to go around. Better if it's all braised? Sure. But I'm willing to sacrifice a little flavor for the extra convenience. The other is a beef stew. Here, I dredge and brown the beef first, then layer it in the crock with all other ingredients. Works well every time.
The key to successful crock-cooking is simply knowing how temperature affects your ingredients, and when you can substitute a total low-slow cook for a quick sear, followed by low-slow.
I've had the same problem. I think, as others here have said, that the newer Crock-Pots cook much hotter than old ones, so if you leave it cooking all day while you're at work the food gets overcooked. One thing I've tried lately is to cook while I'm asleep instead. I'll put the food in the fridge when I wake up and reheat it later for dinner.
If you have a newer crockpot, bought within the last three years or so, they run much hotter than older ones. I have a Rival pot which will simmer on low so I really have to be careful with what I cook in it. As far as metallic tastes go are there slow cookers out there with metallic bowls? All the ones I've seen (and owned) have been stoneware.
I'm thinking it's either the crockpot itself or you're cooking stuff that doesn't need as long a time as you may think it needs. Or maybe a combination of both.
My 4-quart crock -- it's ceramic -- is about the same age as yours. It doesn't have a timer. It's settings are either Low or High. I've discovered, through trial and error, that I have to shorten the cooking time on most recipes because my crock's "Low" is not as low as I think it is.
I've only noticed a faint metallic taste if I leave something tomato-based in there for too long.
Wow - I really think this is either the slow cooker itself, the long cooking times, or a combination of the two.
I own a rival slow cooker that is relatively new - w/in the past 5-7 yrs - and have made a number of dishes that turned out well. For instance, Chili. I used my normal recipe (CI "chili with supermarket ingredients") and simmered it in the slow cooker instead of on the stove (since my stove just doesn't get low enough; did all prior steps on the stovetop). However, I probably simmered on low for 2-4 hours, not 8+.
I own the book, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, and I think there are only a handful of recipes that call for more than 8 hours of cooking on low. That is why I can't use my slow cooker to make dinner while I am at work - I am just away for too long.
Hope this helps! A slow cooker can be very useful, so I hope you figure it out.
Your post could just as easily be entitled, 'reasons Samuelinthekitchen despises slow cookers.' I have no advice except to say that your experiences echo mine perfectly. I remember a particularly harrowing pea and ham soup that came out saltier than could be imagined. In terms of other dishes I just found they constantly came out consistently bland and somehow overdone.
Honestly I can't think of any dish that I can't get better outcomes from stovetop or in the oven.
The one exception as I've mentioned previously is confit. As slow cookers keep food at a consistent and low temperature they are great for confit. Slow cooker confit garlic is a fabulous thing to have around.
+1 There are so very few things which I find taste worthy of the ingredients I'm putting in the crock pot, that I generally don't use it
my ONE exception is my Italian Roast pork, it's a shoulder which is fatty and has enough connective tissue that it needs to cook forever, I just season really well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, olive oil, a little salt and pepper and let it go
if it's a boneless shoulder I'll start it at 8:00am for a 3:00 game
otherwise, I'll turn the crock on before I go to bed and turn it off when I wake up
(it's strange and wonderful to take up to the smell of roast pork Italiano)
Your recipes seem fine, sounds like it could be your slow cooker...I've had my "crockpot" for about 20 years, maybe more and I LOVE IT..but then, I don't taste any metallic flavor. One way to tell if it's the slow cooker is to either buy another one to use or borrow one from a friend or relative & use, preferably one of a different brand. If there's no metallic taste in your food, you have your answer.
I think you're definitely cooking them too long. Low for eight hours is a lot, since low is basically keeping it right below a simmer.
I would, if you could, not go over six hours on low and four hours on high for any slow cooker dish.
I know it sucks, especially if you want a dish to be nice and hot and done when you wake up/come home from work. If your slow cooker has a timer of any kind, definitely put it to use. If not, then I would set a clock for you to wake up around 5.5 to 6 hours after you turn on the slow cooker just to get up and turn it off, then go back to sleep...
I feel badly for you, Lou...I have a very very OLD crockpot (get it? crockpot=old school) and it has a ceramic liner....the brand is Rival and we ♥ it. Anyway, what brand of slow cooker do you own? The newer models of slow cookers have different heat settings from the old-school ones...that's about all I can offer you. You might go on Amazon to look for user product reviews of whatever brand you bought...this might help, I don't know. I just love my old school crockpot, though; and I want you to love yours, too!
I have an "old school" ceramic crockpot. I am guessing it is at least 20 years old. I am a decent cook but I can honestly say things like short ribs and pot roast are much better in an oven roaster and chili better on the stove. I was able to make some really good braised texas cut bbq pork ribs in the CP though. I have/had (?) an old cook book I got at a used book store that came with a very old CP (not mine). I think I gave it away, but the gist is you are not supposed to combine salt, beans and tomatoes too early on or things don't some out right. Beans get tough in tomato or salt aparently.
Also if you are cooking it overnight, you may be cooking it too long. 7-8 hours on low seems to the max for things I have made. otherwise things can get mushy can cause the gag reaction. Not sure,how much you sleep, but chances are after you turn the thing on you don't go right to sleep. Chicken breasts are a huge no no in my book, as they dry out. Forwhat it is worth beef generally does not work for me, but pork does. Althouh Cornbeef seems to work fine. I have never found the crockpot to be better than traditional methods, but in some cases it works acceptably under the condtions you mention (ie need to leave something unattended for hours).