My readers have let me know how much they enjoy crockpot cooking. They allow working families the chance to come home to long-simmered soups, sauces, stews and other comforting meals that warm the soul. The trick to developing or converting recipes for slow cookers is to correctly estimate the liquid needed. Figure that about 2 cups of liquid will be evaporated during the cooking process over six to eight hours, so plan accordingly.
For instance, if you want to make chicken soup or minestrone soup in the slow cooker, just add 2 extra cups of water to your recipe and it should work out well. Don’t add pasta or rice until the end (15 minutes before serving for pasta, 30 minutes before serving for white rice, 40 minutes before serving for brown rice). Chili works particularly well in the slow cooker. Most chili recipes have long cooking times and won’t need much adjustment, but if the cooking time calls for only one or two hours of heat, add those two extra cups of water and let it simmer all day.
Because of the long cooking times, lean towards using tougher cuts of meat and heartier fish for best results. Lamb shanks hold up well to 10 hours of braising as do short ribs. Pork shoulder and rump roast become very tender after stewing for hours. Don’t be afraid to make fish in your slow cooker. My Homemade Sardines cook for about 6 hours and can be made with mackerel, smelt, herring, or even trout.
Sardines are any type of small fish like mackerel or smelt or herring that have been preserved in oil or packed in sauce. Sardines are a good source of protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium (if you eat the bones). I like to make my own at home because it’s not very difficult and the result is wonderful. This cooking process can be applied to larger fish like trout very well. Just cut the bigger fish into pieces. The sweet-pickle juice adds a beautiful complexity to these homemade sardines. The olive oil provides the protection of polyphenols. I like to smash the sardines up and eat them on Saltine crackers.
Brine of ¼ cup salt dissolved in 2 cups water
2-3 lbs. of mackerel, herring, or smelt, cleaned with heads removed (skin on, bones in)
¾ cup olive oil
¾ cup water
¾ cup vinegar from a jar of sweet pickles
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. peppercorns
Add the fish to the brine and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
Remove the fish from the brine and add to a crockpot with the olive oil and all remaining ingredients. Be sure the fish is completely covered with liquid. Add more water if necessary.
Simmer on low heat for 3-6 hours (depending on the size of the fish) or until the fish is very soft, even the bones.