Fall always seems to signal that annual flood of crock pot recipes, right? Seemingly mouth-watering, amazing displays of 12 unattentive hours that lead you straight to the land of the culinary gourmand. Your family will praise you! Your guests will hail you for your cooking genius for years to come! You are a domestic goddess! And all thanks to your handy-dandy electric slow cooker.
I have a crock pot. I’ve long thought I absolutely had to have it. I would haul the space-hogging monster out of the cupboard every Fall to make chili, a fairly debased coq au vin, all manner of casseroley items, and a vast array of soups. If you’re like me, you like dishes that are extremely tasty. You really like dishes that are extremely tasty without being extremely time consuming. And you adore anything that helps you make those dishes and also fits in your kitchen, which is most likely tight on space already because of all the other kitchen electrics you’ve been told you absolutely have to have.
Secret: Your crock pot isn’t one of them.
I discovered this the day my husband convinced me we needed a french oven. You might know it as a dutch oven or stewpot, but as long as it has relatively tall sides, a tight-fitting lid, is made of cast iron or flame-proof stoneware, and can be used on the stove top, it’s all the same. He fell in love with an ancho chili short rib recipe that no, he told me, could not be made in the crock pot because it involved combination cooking: a quick browning on the stove before a slow cook in the oven.
And that’s when I discovered it: everything you can make in a crock pot you can make in a french oven. You can make it better. You can make it faster. And if you don’t have a single inch of shelf space left, you can even store it in your oven between uses. More than that, it’s given us a lot more flexibility. Now I have one tool that’s roughly the same size as my crock pot (smaller, really, in that it doesn’t have a casing and cord to deal with), in which I can make every single slow-cooker recipe I already loved, plus I can use it for roasts, artisinal bread, and every casserole that’s ever been invented.
So the next time you want to make hot dogs for a crowd, don’t waste four hours using a slow cooker. Boil water in your french oven and tell your friends to get their plates ready; those dogs will be ready in three minutes. When it comes time to make that delicious bread pudding? Get three hours back! It doesn’t need more than an hour to cook, anyway. And remember: roasting a chicken is just ten minutes prep-time when you make it in the oven, too, and you still get to walk away from it for a few hours. But it definitely doesn’t require ten.
Tell me: are you a die-hard slow cooker? Or are you as scared as I am to leave something plugged in and turned on for 12 hours when you might need to leave the house? (And if you’re living in Eastern North Carolina? I have a crock pot for sale.)
Image via Sur la Table.
P.S. — The best casserole book I’ve ever read is Being Dead is No Excuse. I’ve served these casseroles to hifalutin urbanites on raw diets who have gobbled them up like there’s no tomorrow. If you aren’t sure about casseroles, read this book. If you need a laugh, read this book. If you love casseroles and are ready for some actually inventive, impressive, foodie-casseroles, read this book. If you haven’t read this book? Read this book.