THE FRENCH SLOW COOKER

A few years back, my friend Donna and I decided to make cassoulet, a hearty French bean and meat stew.  First we made stock, then we soaked and cooked the beans, marinated the meats, made duck confit, then simmered it all together.  It took several days to get it ready and along the way we scrubbed a mountain of pots and pans.  The finished cassoulet tasted great, but neither of us attempted to make it again.  It was just too much work.  Until it dawned on me one day that cassoulet was a perfect dish for the slow cooker!

A slow cooker (also known as a Crock Pot, though that is a proprietary name belonging to the Rival Company) is ideal for simmering, stewing, and braising.  If you start by using good fresh ingredients, you are sure to have delicious results.   Since a slow cooker cooks with gentle heat over a long period of time, it gives all of the flavors a chance to blend together.  For my slow cooker cassoulet, I put the beans, broth, meats, and flavorings into the pot, skipping the traditional marinating step since everything would be cooking together for hours.  I put the cover on and set the timer.  There was nothing else to do, so I went out for the day.

When I got home, I closed my eyes and inhaled.  Enticing aromas filled the air.  I felt as if I had arrived at the farmhouse kitchen of the French grand-mere I never had!  The meat was fall off the bone tender.  The beans were creamy-soft and had soaked up all the flavors of the meats, garlic and herbs.  Best of all, it was just as good as the classic version.  We had a great meal and since cassoulet is so simple to put together in the slow cooker, I don’t have to wait for a special occasion to make it again.

French food has a bad reputation for being fancy and difficult and that may be true for some restaurant fare.  But in my new book The French Slow Cooker, you will find recipes for simple, rustic food, the kind of things that French home cooks make every day.   No special equipment or tricky techniques, and all of the ingredients are available in a well stocked supermarket. Add a little French flair to chicken soup and try my Chicken Bouillabaisse.  Or how about Short Ribs braised with dark beer and shallots.  The Meatballs Bayonnaise simmered in a spicy sauce make a great sandwich on cold afternoon, maybe even Super Bowl Sunday.   For a party, impress your guests with a country-style paté — which is no more difficult than making a meatloaf, or rillettes, French style potted pork to spread on a crisp baguette.  And don’t miss out on the delicious desserts, like Raspberry Bread Pudding or Lemon Creams.

I’ll be posting some of the recipes over the next few weeks and I hope you will give them a try and let me know what you think!

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    • Michele Scicolone