We've been talking about slow cooking today with everything from steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast to an authentic kalua pig roasted in the ground to Catalan beef stew. When you've got the time (and the space, if you're doing the whole kalua pig!), slow cooking is awesome.
During the work week though, and even on weekends when time is taken up with "life errands" like picking up dry cleaning, slow-cooking isn't always realistic. At least, not the kind of slow-cooking that truly takes four to five hours. Besides, I don't have a slow-cooking crock pot and my tiny apartment kitchen couldn't hold another small appliance.
But not to despair! There are way to *ahem* cheat the slow cooking a little. It probably won't be as fast and perky as Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee, but a few tips can still get you a beautifully braised, buttery beefy stew without having to sic your can opener on Dinty Moore. These aren't novel new ideas in cooking, just reminders.
- Use slightly fattier cuts of meat. Leaner cuts of meat are what take so long to "tenderize" when cooking. Who cares about your New Year's resolutions? You are going to eat this with mashed potatoes, right?
- If you're doing things like shortribs, try getting them boneless. Boneless cuts cook faster. Yes, yes, bones give lots of flavor, but this is semi slow cooking.
- Cut the main ingredients into smaller pieces. Most slow cooking recipes call for meat and vegetables cut into 2" chunks or bigger, if at all. Half that size doesn't necessarily mean half the time, but it still cuts down the cooking time.
- Don't save time by not browning the meat. This step doesn't take that long and really does make he semi slow cooked dish better.
- Use very flavorful stocks, especially homemade ones if you have them. Those cans of salty dishwater "broth" from the market aren't that rich. Look for packaged stocks that really are "stock."
- Use wine as part of your braising/cooking/stewing liquid. Wine itself has a lot of flavor, and also brings out flavors in the other ingredients. Besides, if you drink a little while you're cooking, it seems to go by much faster.