Making Friends with the Slow Cooker

February 16, 2015 | Posted by Sally Jackson

News Flash: there is a device called a slow cooker (often referred to, ala tissues and Kleenex, as a Crock Pot) that takes a mess of ingredients and turns them into dinner in just ten hours. Big deal, you may say; I can throw a whole bunch of stuff into my Dutch oven and have dinner in 4 hours. So yeah, it didn’t sound all that magical or newsworthy to me, either, and yet it seems that EVERYONE is in love with the thing! So in the name of research, and because of just how well the slow cooker seems to lend itself to our comfort food theme, I decided to take one for a test drive.

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What can I say, except…now I get it! It was admittedly hard for me to walk away from the thing – I want to open! Stir! Taste! Fiddle with the heat! – but I followed directions and stayed away, and therein lies the slow cooker’s magic. With just a little prep, you can turn your beast on and walk away, no checking, no worries, and go about your day. Your whole day. Like, leave for work and come home to dinner 9 hours later, that kind of whole day. And that is pretty darn cool.

Most braised dishes that would conventionally be prepared in a Dutch oven can be made in a slow cooker and vice versa (here’s a comparison of the two methods, and a conversion guide for reference) and what does better in a long, slow braise than pork shoulder? Not much; the tough cut transforms into something deliciously tender, flavorful and succulent.

This recipe is definitely not my usual B-team contribution – Stephanie likes to call me “Mother Earth” for my tofu-roasting, bean-soaking, chia seed-loving ways – but sometimes nothing gets the job done like a decadent bowl of pasta with a hearty sauce. And this slow cooker-braised pork, shredded into a rich, winey, fennel-scented tomato ragu and tossed with golden parpadelle and showered with Parmesan cheese hits all sorts of comfort food buttons.