Braise, Stew, Simmer and Keep Food Warm for Parties
Braising is a wonderful technique for making tough cuts of meat like beef ribs tender and juicy. And it fills the house with wonderful aromas. Since my slow cooker was a wedding gift more than 30 years ago, I asked my friend Brigit Binns of Roadfoodie.com what to look for and what she recommends. She just finished writing a book about slow cookers for a major cookware store. "The most popular slow cookers have a capacity of 6 to 7 quarts, and consist of a simple metal housing with a heavy ceramic insert and a tight-fitting lid, which is crucial to the process (it also means your house won't smell like delicious braising food, which could be good or bad, depending on your opinion).
"In the old days, recipes for slow cookers were of the 'dump, stir, and walk away' variety, but the resulting dishes tended to be soft, bland, and rather one-note in flavor. Now, it's acknowledged that a little preliminary browning (in another pan) before you dump will elevate the dish by many levels of magnitude. It's as if you had a French auntie at home nurturing a consoling supper just for you (an auntie who disappears before dinnertime). Flavors get happy together, protein becomes succulent while remaining juicy, and you look like a star.
"The best models, like the fabulous All-Clad feature a delayed-start button, at least three temperature settings, and revert to hold mode automatically after the cooking time is up. Note that 'Low' is always 200°F, and 'High is always 300°F. Also note that slow-cookers make great additions to the buffet table. They're brilliant, for instance, at keeping your favorite chili nice and hot on game days." I also use mine to keep my Swedish Glögg warm during winter parties.