Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Adventures in Slow Cooking, Part I: Pork Loin

Gentle reader, I have never had a slow cooker before—the amount of counter space it would take up seemed prohibitive in my matchbox-sized NYC kitchen, and I feared that with my innate propensity for injuring myself and damaging things, it would be a bad move to leave something cooking in absentia for hours. I had visions of languishing in prison for years after my slow cooker started a fire that took down my building and killed my neighbors. Seriously.

But. I decided to start a new and less melodramatic chapter in my life—expanding my horizons if not my countertop space—and asked for a slow cooker for Christmas.

Soon, my aunt Sue shipped me a large box—after having already texted me that she was getting me one—so it seemed obvious that that was what was in the box, and thus I felt justified in opening and starting to use it before Christmas.

The first experiment was, well, meh. I threw in a boneless pork loin roast in a combination of chicken stock, someone’s leftover half of a Budweiser, and a paranoid excess of water. Then I threw in half an onion, sliced loosely. Then I went to hang out at the bar for the requisite cooking time of 3 to 4 hours, because a watched pot never slow-cooks, or something.

Unveiling the pork—served with some delicious mac and cheese—was exciting. But upon tasting it I kind of made that waaat-waaah noise in my mid.

I meeean ... it was fine. It wasn't gross. But the meat was kind of dry and dishcloth-texturey, and the onions weren’t melty like I would’ve liked. They were actually practically raw. As a slow-cooker virgin, I asked myself (as one often does after being devirginized), Where did I go wrong?

So this is what I came up with:

- I bought that cut of meat before I got the slow cooker, and I was eager to test out the new device, but that pork was kinda lean for that cooking method. Also, maybe I should have browned it first, IDK. Lesson: Use a fattier meat. Maybe brown it first.

- I put in too much water probably, and it drained the meat juices. I was paranoid about the prospect of not fully covering the meat and coming home to discover that the cooker had caught fire and burned down my apartment and caused my neighbors to die of asphyxiation and realizing that I would have to go to prison for gross negligence and never get to use the slow cooker again and also the food in prison is terrible and OMG I would never be able to survive in prison! Lesson: Take a Xanax before using the slow cooker until I get used to it. Also, use less water.

- I cooked it on low in Probe mode—which does not involve aliens, but an equally invasive method of meat thermometry. The cooker automatically turns to WARM mode once the meat reaches the appointed internal temperature (OMG WE’RE LIVING IN THE FUTURE!). But then I overreached and turned it back on to LOW after adding some asparagus, which was probably stupid. Lesson: Don’t do that.

- I should’ve probably made a bed of the onion slices before adding the pork, then weighed them down under the meat, rather than leaving them to float in the liquid. Lesson: Do that.

I was a wee bit disappointed by the dryness, but I’m not mad at that meal—the meat was certainly edible, and the creamy mac-and-cheese side dish both offset the dryness and consoled me. Hey, it was my first time using a slow cooker. And listen, the point of this blog is for people to feel comfortable experimenting in their kitchen, and to be like “Eh, we’ll get ’em next time, nobody died in a fire” if the results don’t turn out quite as you expected.

Stay tuned for more adventures in slow cooking—hopefully they will be progressively more successful.

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