I was going to use this first post of the year to sing the praises of the crock pot. It was going to be all about how the slow cooker (to use its non-trademarked name) is an easy way to make nutrient-dense meals that demand amazingly little time, effort, money, and carbon, using modern technology to get traditional results.
Slow cooking is among the healthiest ways to cook what you’re not going to eat raw. The low heat preserves nutrients and gently breaks down food for maximum digestibility and minimum generation of carcinogenic, inflammatory, oxidizing compounds and effects – that tongue-twisting litany of heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, acrylamides, denatured proteins, advanced glycation end products, and free radicals spawned in the demonic hell of high-heat, rapid cooking (1).
I’ve been evangelizing about the crock pot for a number of years now as the best way to slow cook, provided you take care not to overcook. It’s the most energy efficient, the most precise, the most forgiving, the easiest to clean up; the smallest footprint in every way. It doesn’t heat up the house or set it on fire.
You throw things in, leave for the day and come back to a hot meal that’s pleasurable and comforting enough to keep you from calling for take-out. It’s a staple of my cooking routine, and an invaluable aide to keeping that resolution you all made to eat more home-prepared whole foods.
I love to tell people how you can make a whole chicken deliciously cooked in its own liquid, an effortless gourmet meal that exemplifies my recommended mantra for those who think they don’t have time for real food: “don’t cook; assemble.” (I don’t know who first came up with that, but it’s genius.) How, contrary to reputation, crock pots can create some fine aesthetic effects if used skillfully — not the tasteless mush some foodies complain about — and without the health-defeating browning prep some think necessary.
How it’s the best way for lazy cooks like myself (I prefer to be described as “labor-sensitive”) to handle grass-fed meat and inexpensive cuts; to finesse tough prospects like duck, or scary ones whose original identity you may prefer to blur in a stew, such as organ meats, bunny rabbits, or, I’ve been thinking lately, those back yard squirrels that keep digging up my patio planters.
I go on and on about how crock pot cooking gets all the meat off the bone and makes mineral-packed bone broth while you wait. About how nicely it renders lard and fat, capping off the efficient use of the whole animal – bones, organs, fat and all, the only respectful way to use life if you’re going to take it; nothing wasted. Yet not too messy for the faint of heart.
And I’m still going to tell you all that.
But as I was pulling up my chair to get started, I checked my email in a last burst of procrastination, and there I found some disturbing information. People on the Weston Price yahoo group were wondering how to find a lead-free crock pot. Lead-free? Crock pots have lead in them?
My head whirled. Was I poisoning myself with my favorite modern convenience? Would I have to change my whole way of doing things? Worst of all, was I going to have to explain to the clients, friends, and family who had bought crock pots on my advice that they should now get rid of them?
Well, maybe. And maybe not. In Part II, I’ll tell you what I found. And get to some recipes. Stay tuned. Don’t throw anything out or run out and buy anything new just yet.
1. See hundreds of studies in the past 30 years; try searching PubMed (http://www.pubmed.gov/) using key words from this paragraph. U.S. research tends to single out red meats cooked at very high/dry heat, but in fact most heat-processing, i.e, cooking, of most foods involves some harm production and nutrient loss (see Jägerstad, M. “Genotoxicity of Heat-Processed Foods,” Mutation Research, July 1, 2005, 156-72, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15914214 and other studies from abroad, as well as studies on acrylamides and AGEs). Does this mean you shouldn’t cook food? Raw foodists say yes, but I say no, and I’ll be telling you why in future posts.
2. Learn more about Weston Price at http://www.westonaprice.org/.