The Chef and the Slow Cooker

Photo courtesy Andrew Thomas Lee

Taste of the South(TOS): Why focus on the slow cooker?

Hugh Acheson (AH): A lot of us have a slow cooker that we use for pot roast and not much else. In this day and age of meal delivery services, I want to push people back to cooking from scratch and show them how to do it, even with a busy lifestyle. Cooking doesn’t have to be hugely impactful on your day, but the results can be so much better than you think.

TOS: What was your first experience with a slow cooker?

AH: Like most people, I started out with throwing that whole piece of beef chuck into the slow cooker for six to eight hours until it’s just super tender. And then I stopped there without taking time to think of the possibilities, even though I’m a chef by trade. So, I decided to give it more thought—how could I finish a dish differently or introduce contemporary flavors?

TOS: When did you really get into using your slow cooker?

AH: Four or five years ago I started toying around with my slow cooker. With how much I work, it was nice to find a way to make great food in the home kitchen, but in a style and timeline that keeps up with the pace of family life.

TOS: Were there any uses of the slow cooker that surprised you?

AH: A lot of the fish recipes really surprised me, because you think of fish cooking pretty quickly. But you can slow braise a fish and it will come out beautifully. Also, cooking vegetables and things like that where people don’t typically think about using a slow cooker. It’s just so much safer than a stove when you need to be able to walk away and go run your errands or go to work and back.

TOS: What inspired you to throw so many unexpected ingredients into the slow cooker?

AH: Regardless of the vessel I’m cooking in or the tools I’m using, I’m still a chef. So I think in terms of what flavors meld well together and what flavors we’re discovering, like the kimchis and misos of the world. And that thought process doesn’t stop just because I’m using a slow cooker. We’re trying to break people out of the pot roast mind-set of the slow cooker—that pot roast is the be-all, end-all of that style of cooking. To me, it just needs to be viewed as a temperature-controlled environment in which you can do a gazillion different things.

TOS: What was your favorite discovery in this slow-cooker exploration?

AH: Beans cook up phenomenally well. They get plump and beautiful, and you don’t have to rush them. I figured out that I could make amazing chicken stock in the slow cooker by letting it go for 10 hours, or make great consommés, because it’s a really temperature-stable environment. Also, I love that you can recapture so much time in the day. Knowing that you’re coming home to a healthy, nice meal to feed the family without having to be in the kitchen for hours is probably the best discovery. Plus, having all those smells in your kitchen when you get home is pretty nice.

TOS: Are these recipes that you tend to use a lot at home?

AH: Oh, definitely. Every book I write is meant to be more geared toward the home cook who enjoys good food.

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