Between hectic back-to-school schedules and dropping temperatures, it’s never been a better time to rely on your slow cooker. With just a few minutes of prep, you and your family can sit down to a hearty, flavorful meal of spiced brisket tacos, braised pork chops or tender chicken thighs — even on weeknights.
In our new book Quick Slow Cooking, author Kim Laidlaw shares more than 125 recipes designed with busy cooks in mind, featuring streamlined ingredient lists and a minimal number of steps. Add an easy side dish, and dinner is served! She also gives tips for working ahead, like prepping vegetables and marinating meat, to save even more time. The result: a deep, complex, homemade meal that requires only minutes of hands-on time. Get started with these new recipes from the book. (Note that only some slow cookers have flameproof inserts that are safe to use on the stove top. If your insert isn’t flameproof, always use a frying pan for steps that require using the stove top, as directed below.)
Chili-Rubbed Brisket Tacos
Tucked into warm tortillas, this tender brisket does not need much embellishment. Instead of folded into tacos, you could top the meat with barbecue sauce in burger buns or arrange it on top of a Mexican-inspired salad. This recipe yields enough to feed a crowd and also freezes well. Be sure to choose a well-marbled brisket, as the fat will keep the meat tender and moist.
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 center-cut beef brisket, about 6 lb (3 kg), fat layer trimmed to 1⁄2 inch (12 mm) thick
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 bottle (12 fl oz/375 ml) lager-style beer
Corn or flour tortillas, about 6 inches(15 cm) in diameter, warmed
Pickled red onions, jalapeño slices, thinly sliced radishes, fresh cilantro leaves, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, or other favorite taco toppings for serving
PREP: In a small bowl, stir together the chili powder, pepper, sugar, onion powder, dry mustard, and 1 tablespoon salt until well combined. Rub the brisket all over with the spice mixture. Cut the brisket in half crosswise, then wrap both halves in aluminum foil or place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
SLOW COOK: Transfer the brisket halves to a slow cooker, placing them in as even a layer as possible. Sprinkle the onion over the top and pour the beer into the cooker along the edge of the insert. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 8—10 hours. The brisket should be fork-tender.
ASSEMBLE: Transfer the brisket to a platter. Using 2 forks, shred the brisket into bite-size pieces, discarding any large pieces of fat. Using a large spoon, spoon off and discard as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid. Moisten the brisket with some of the warm cooking liquid. Assemble the taco toppings.
SERVE: Set the platter of brisket on the table. Accompany with tortillas and the toppings for diners to make their own tacos. Serves 8-10.
The finest Japanese pork ramen takes considerable culinary skill and many hours to create. Here is a simplified, yet still delicious, version that boasts plenty of succulent braised pork. If you can’t find high-quality fresh ramen noodles, use fresh thin Chinese egg noodles or fresh linguine. Serve the soup with your favorite ramen embellishments. I like to top my bowl with a soft-boiled egg and some baby spinach.
3 lb (1.5 kg) boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 equal pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil, if including the optional browning step
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2-inch (5-cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
8 cups (64 fl oz/2 l) low-sodium chicken broth
1 leek, white and green parts, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
1⁄4 lb (125 g) cremini or button mushrooms, brushed clean and coarsely chopped
Low-sodium soy sauce for seasoning
Sesame and/or chile oil for seasoning
1 1⁄2 lb (750 g) fresh ramen noodles
8 large eggs (optional)
About 4 green onions, white and pale green parts, finely chopped
PREP: Season the pork with salt.
BUILD FLAVOR (OPTIONAL): Put a flameproof slow-cooker insert (or frying pan) on the stove top over medium-high heat, then add the oil and warm until hot. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, add the pork pieces and sear them on the first side without moving them until well browned, 3—4 minutes. Turn the pieces and sear on the second side until well browned, 3—4 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the insert or frying pan and return the insert or pan to medium-high heat. Add the yellow onion and sear, without stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) of the broth and deglaze, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, then let simmer for 1 minute.
SLOW COOK: If you have included the browning step, transfer the insert (or the contents of the frying pan) to the slow cooker, add the leek, mushrooms, and the remaining 7 cups (56 fl oz/1.75 l) broth, and stir to combine. If you are starting here, combine the pork, yellow onion, garlic, ginger, leek, mushrooms, and broth in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 8 hours. The pork should be very tender and the broth should be fragrant.
ASSEMBLE: Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Using 2 forks, break the pork into bite-size chunks, removing and discarding any large pieces of fat. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. Using a large spoon, skim off and discard any fat from the surface of the broth. Return the pork and broth to the slow cooker and season to taste with soy sauce and sesame and/or chile oil. Cover and cook on the low heat setting for about 30 minutes to warm through.
Cook the ramen noodles according to the package directions. If you want to top each bowl of ramen with an egg, put the eggs into boiling water and simmer for 5—6 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water, let cool until they can be handled, and peel them.
SERVE: Divide the noodles evenly among individual bowls. Ladle the broth and pork over the noodles, dividing them evenly, then sprinkle with the green onions. If desired, top each bowl with a halved soft-boiled egg and serve right away. Serves 8.
Cacciatore, which means “hunter” in Italian, is a rustic country dish most often made with chicken, but also sometimes with rabbit. This version is full of meaty mushrooms—as a hunter might find in the woods—and tomatoes. Serve it with crusty bread or over freshly cooked pasta.
1 chicken, 4—5 lb (2—2.5 kg), cut into 8 serving pieces, trimmed of excess skin and fat
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1⁄2 lb (250 g) cremini mushrooms, brushed clean and halved or quartered if large
1 can (28 oz/875 g) whole plum tomatoes with juice, lightly crushed with your hands
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1⁄4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) low-sodium chicken broth
PREP: Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a nonreactive bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of the oil, the lemon juice, garlic, and thyme. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
BUILD FLAVOR (OPTIONAL): Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels; discard the marinade. Put a flameproof slow-cooker insert (or frying pan) on the stove top over medium-high heat, then add the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and warm until hot. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the chicken pieces and cook, turning frequently, until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
QUICK COOK: If you have included the browning step, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the insert or frying pan and return the insert or pan to medium-high heat. If you are starting here, put a flameproof slow-cooker insert (or frying pan) on the stove top over medium-high heat, then add the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and warm until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 3—5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, 6—8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, capers, anchovy paste (if using), and broth. Raise the heat to high and deglaze, stirring and scraping up the browned bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil.
SLOW COOK: Transfer the insert (or the contents of the frying pan) to the slow cooker and add the chicken. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 6 hours. The chicken should be tender and opaque throughout.
ASSEMBLE: Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Using a large spoon, skim off and discard as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid. Bring the liquid to a simmer on the high-heat setting and cook, uncovered, until reduced and thickened, 5—10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
SERVE: Spoon the cooking liquid over the chicken and serve right away. Serves 6-8.
Packed with vegetables and legumes, this dish is hearty comfort food at its best, plus it will satisfy both vegans and meat eaters alike. Serve it with thick slices of warm corn bread or over freshly steamed rice or a baked potato. You can dress it up with shredded cheese, a dollop of plain yogurt, and a sprinkling of chopped green onions.
2 cans (15 oz/470 g each) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans (15 oz/470 g) red kidney beans or red beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz/470 g) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can (28 oz/875 g) crushed tomatoes with juice
1 can (15 oz/470 g) fire-roasted diced tomatoes with juice
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 cups (12 oz/375 g) frozen corn kernels
SLOW COOK: In a slower cooker, combine the pinto and kidney beans, chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, onion, carrot, red and green peppers, chili powder, cumin, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) water. Stir to mix well. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 6 hours to blend the flavors.
Uncover, add the corn, and stir well. Re-cover and continue to cook on the low-heat setting for 30 minutes. The corn should be tender and warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.
SERVE: Transfer to individual bowls and serve right away. Serves 8.
Fish and Shrimp Stew with Fennel, Leeks, and Saffron
Saffron adds a floral note and lovely yellow hue to this hearty stew that recalls the cuisine of southern France. To complete the menu, set out a crusty loaf of French bread, a simple green salad, and a bottle of the same wine you used in the stew.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 fennel bulb, minced
1 leek, white and pale green part, very thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1⁄2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) fruity white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 1⁄2 cups (12 fl oz/375 ml) bottled clam juice
1 can (14 oz/440 g) whole plum tomatoes with juice
1⁄4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) fresh orange juice
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb (500 g) large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb (500 g) firm white fish fillets such as cod, cut into 1-inch pieces
1⁄4 cup (1⁄3 oz/10 g) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
QUICK COOK: Put a flameproof slow-cooker insert or frying pan on the stove top over medium heat, then add the butter and warm until melted. Add the onion, fennel, leek, and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Whisk in the flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the flour is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 2—3 minutes. Add the clam juice, tomatoes, orange juice, saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper and bring to a boil. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher, then boil for 2 minutes.
SLOW COOK: Transfer the insert or the contents of the frying pan to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on the low-heat setting for 4 hours. The fennel and leek should be tender and the mixture should be aromatic.
Uncover, add the shrimp, fish, and parsley, and stir to mix well. Re-cover the cooker and cook on the low-heat setting for 1 hour. The shrimp and fish should be opaque.
SERVE: Spoon into shallow individual bowls and serve right away. Serves 4.