Dozens of slow-cooker books are published every year, many indistinguishable from one another, and each packed with recipes so simple and forgiving you could argue you don’t even need them. But veteran cookbook author and teacher Andrew Schloss takes a new approach in “Cooking Slow,” one which explores low-temperature methods of every kind and for every appliance: dry heat, wet heat, oven, stove top, grill, sous-vide, and so forth. The slow cooker gets a chapter, too, but for once it’s not the star of the show.
Slow techniques offer the promise of delicate textures and a gently coaxed-out symphony of tastes. But they also offer, as every slow-cooker owner knows, the promise of salvation from our own tyrannical schedules. Eliminate the dinner rush — cranky, hungry kids, tired parents, bare fridges, no time — and household peace will descend like Linus’s blanket. So goes the theory.
When you compare slow-cooked foods to their high-heat counterparts, you can expect, from the slow foods, compromises on browning, for a start. A chicken on a bed of wild mushrooms, slow-roasted and covered at 175 degrees is really a braised, fall-apart chicken. A brown sugar-balsamic glaze applied at 500 degrees at the end offers a tasty, complementary finish, but don’t count on any crisping.
Chicken “poele,” with baby stewing vegetables, falls apart in the same way. You get appropriately-cooked, non-fibrous meat, but none of the caramelization and complexity brought to you courtesy of the Maillard reaction. A turkey breast, dried and chilled overnight in the fridge, then slow-roasted for 8 hours, has a better skin, though I’m not sure it’s much less trouble than the usual high-heat method.
A slow-baked meatloaf wins no beauty contest, emerging pale, firm, and crustless, in a soup of its own juices. The flavor is good, and better the next day. Pork and shrimp posole hovers at a simmer all day and turns out tender and juicy. Yet in both cases I would have enjoyed a more aggressive hand — cumin! bacon! roasted chiles! — even if it had meant a bit more effort and a longer ingredient list.
Bolder seasoning and long seething paid off in some slow-simmered bourbon-bacon beans, sweet and porky and improving with every leftover day. Chocolate lamb chili has a mole-like, savory depth, even though you add the chocolate to the slow cooker only at the last minute. Carrots slow-baked on coffee beans pick up some subtle mocha overtones, which match the earthy roast carrot flavor surprisingly well. And the fussiest recipe I tried, a kind of gratin of “molten cauliflower,” offers a divine brown butter-curry flavor that makes up for the questionable hardening of the puree.
Despite Schloss’s undeniable expertise, I ran into some issues following his directions. In a pulled pork recipe, the spice-rub coating you first apply to the meat burns when you sear it. A recipe for soy chicken wings baked in foil nowhere says that you need to take the foil off for browning in the last step. The batter for a cheesecake needs a whisk, not just a wooden spoon, if you hope to break up the eggs (the cake itself, though flattish, was a hit). And some instructions for butterflying short ribs left me so at sea I decided to skip the recipe altogether, one of those situations where a picture would have made all the difference.
All in all, the recipes weren’t game changers. But for the week that “Cooking Slow” was the resident cookbook-in-testing, we enjoyed remarkable peace in the evenings. With her homework and piano practice completed at leisure, my 7-year-old and I contentedly assembled a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle while I sipped a glass of wine, only rising to check on dinner’s progress a half-hour before the meal.
You could probably establish your own timetable, given enough motivation. Still, “Cooking Slow” provides a welcome nudge in the right direction.T. Susan Chang can be reached at email@example.com.