Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Experimental Crockpotting

I'm into experiments at the moment. The latest is a simple beef stew in the slow cooker, which I made up after searching for a good half an hour for a decent recipe. Seriously, what is it with crockpot owners and tinned soup? Any time you google for crockpot or slow cooker recipes, you get a million of them with cream of mushroom soup as a major ingredient. I'm unimpressed.

So I made up my casserole in a minimal and lazy manner, just to see if it would work. I wasn't too worried if not: the materials could be recycled into a chilli or pasta or something if need be. But it turned out fine. We ate it on the first day with small potatoes and spinach from B1's garden.

And today, we ate it with dumplings and broccolini. I made a variant on my usual dumplings with parsley and ricotta - the Perfect Cheese freebie. I also cooked these in the slow cooker, with some trepidation. I had a recipe in a crockpot cookbook which was too large a quantity, but it did give a 30 minute cooking time, unlike the usual 15-20 minutes it takes on the stovetop. This did not work too well, but we did still end up with an edible dinner, so it could have been worse. Recipes follow.

Recipe: Slow cooked beef and red wine stew
1.25kg topside beef
500g button mushrooms
500g small onions
375ml red wine
2 tblsp worcestershire sauce
2 tblsp tomato paste
large bunch of rosemary
sprig of bayleaves
salt to taste

Peel the onions, leaving most of the root end attached. If they are very small, leave them whole, otherwise halve or quarter them. Put them in the crockpot.
Wipe the mushrooms clean, trim if neeeded, and put them in the pot.
Cut the beef into large cubes. Add it to the pot.
Pour over the wine and worcestershire sauce.
Top with the whole bunch of herbs, and cover.
Cook on low for 4 hours.
Remove herbs, stir, and replace herbs on top.
Cook on low, stirring occasionally, for another 4 hours or until meat is tender.
Taste, adjust for salt, and discard herbs.

Notes: I used this layered method because I have read - and noticed - that vegetables seem to take longer than meat, and it's hotter at the bottom of the pot. Also, the herbs sitting on top scenting the steam that drips back in may seem a bit wasteful, but if you have massive garden trimmings, it's not an issue. If you don't have ridiculous amounts of rosemary on hand, I'd recommend a couple of teaspoons of the tube variety, like Garden Gourmet. I have no freebies from them, I just like this as it mixes well without leaving tough spiky leaves everywhere.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Ricotta & Parsley Dumplings
1 1/4 cups self raising flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter
75 ml milk
100g ricotta
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch salt
1 big pot of stew!

Set your slow cooker to high an hour in advance, so that your stew is bubbling gently.
Beat together egg, milk, parsley, ricotta and salt.
Melt butter, and add to egg mix.
Mix all of this though the flour.
Stir to combine well.
Dollop tablespoons of the mix on top of the stew.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. (ORLY? or until done)

Makes about 8 dumplings. I used the last of the Perfect Italiano low fat ricotta, and of course the beef and red wine casserole above.

Now, importantly, this didn't work quite right. My crockpot's high setting may not be as quick as the one in the recipe book. Or I may not have let it heat up long enough. My dumplings took more like an hour, and even then the innermost ones were still a bit sticky. But we were hungry and didn't want to wait any longer. The flavour and texture of the cooked part was still pretty good, but still I'd prefer the more reliable stovetop method.


aussiechef67 said...

What? No Photo?

Trevar said...


I have never been happy with beef stews unless I sear the beef in a frypan first. I don't try to cook it, just caramelise it on the outside. Anytime I've done it without searing the beef, I end up with a lot of curdled blood through the stew. The texture isn't ideal, but it also 'softens' the flavour of the stew.

So, I was wondering; is this avoidable? Is there anything you do to prevent the blood from curdling?

infoaddict said...

I don't know that I've ever noticed "curdled blood" ... I just know I don't have a lot of luck with good-flavoured crockpot stews that don't require some kind of additional stove-top preparation.

My last experiment involved searing the meat (lamb shanks) and then cooking up very finely chopped carrot, celery, onion, and garlic with red wine to deglaze and create a "gravy". Then I added white beans.

Take I was disgusting - the carrot had caught without my knowing, in the pre-cooked stuff, and the burnt flavour spread through everything - bitter, sharp, NO redeeming features whatsoever. I haven't had a fail like that in a very long time.

Luckily the meat hadn't absorbed the flavour and I could chuck everything out and start again, having only lost two hours of a five-hour cook. Take II wasn't bad, but still missing something.

I reckon a really good crockpot needs the addition of a really rich stock, and concentrated tomatoes in some form - tinned, paste, or mid-summer ripe. Maybe dried porcini mushrooms as well. Otherwise, everything seems to end up thin and watery.

Next experiment will probably be with goat - we got a side of goat from Eco Meats in Belconnen, with spareribs and a roast and shanks and all. It was kid, too; we had the roast and it was wonderful - flavour without rankness. I've had roasts of older goat and it just was too much. (Made excellent pasta sauce the next day though).

Suggestions to create flavour without stodge welcome ...

Cath said...

No photo - I was bloody starving. And the stew is pretty much a lot of brown blobs - it would take a more talented photographer than me to make it look any good.

I do both seared and unseared versions: unseared seems to me to make a more flavoursome juice, while seared has the caramel notes and the meat stays a bit juicier. Thinking about it, I suspect that it makes most sense to use seared for the leaner cuts and unseared for tougher cuts like the lamb shanks.

I don't seem to have a curdled blood issue. Though I would make sure the meat is dry first.

And yes, crockpots do make for thinner juices. You need to use less liquid than stovetop. You can pour it off and boil it down a bit, or add something pureed. The tomato paste in this helps a little, but it's still thin. Hey - maybe that's why those recipes are all about the tinned soup! Enlightenment!

Mummy/Crit said...

Cream of mushroom soup? You probably found a lot of recipes from Minnestota or other mid-western locations. The beloved assures me it's a really vital ingredient in most mid-western dishes. He's not defending it, you understand, merely 'splaining. And yeah, you get a thicker gravy when you use them. You don't lose liquid through evaporation with your slow cooker.

You should know your doorbitch is saying "cathysup", which is highly appropriate.