Thursday, December 01, 2016

335: The Slow Cook

I picked up a new skill recently and I might add quite accidentally because it was nowhere in my list of skills to learn for the year. Though it seems rather basic, I am still proud of it all the same. I have finally learned how to cook.

Cooking was never high on my list, that's because I never really felt the need to. Growing up in a traditional household, Mother would prepare the meals. As a bachelor, there was the ready convenience of eating out. As a married man, I made the wise choice of a wife that knew her way in the kitchen (of course, the reasons for marrying transcend that one qualification.) Thus my range never exceeded the narrow confines of omelettes, Spam, and rice.

And then one day I discovered an Internet forum on slow cooking. The dishes looked quite appealing but the real surprise was the small number of ingredients it took to make each one. The instructions were straightforward: throw the ingredients into the pot and leave to simmer for six to eight hours. There was something nearly mystical about its simplicity.

I would have stayed on the sidelines except that one time while strolling through the kitchen department of the mall I decided to check on the prices of slow cookers. On the high end were units costing P5000 or more, but on the low end, the smallest unit only cost P800. That wasn't too bad, I thought, and after letting a couple of weeks pass, I finally took the plunge. (I did end up with a slightly bigger model that cost P1,100.)

My first experiment was a breakfast casserole. I put in some frozen hash browns, a mix of eggs and milk, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a spread of a quarter kilo of ground pork. I started the cooking at eleven in the evening, set to low heat. Then I went to bed. When I woke up the following morning, the mix had baked into a nice thick body. I sliced into it and discovered it had the consistency and taste of meat loaf. Success!

My next attempt was even more ambitious. I got a kilo of pork butt (which turns out to be the butcher's term for the shoulder), rubbed it with salt and pepper, and marinated it with barbecue sauce for some two hours. Came the time to put it into the pot, I poured in a can of root beer and some onions. As before, I started the cooking late at night and went to bed. The following morning, I had lazy pulled pork! It was good enough that I tried it one more time with spare ribs instead of pork butt.

There's something almost magical about a slow cooker. Prepare the ingredients, go to bed, wake up in the morning with the dish ready to serve. (Full disclosure: I do wake up every two to three hours to make sure everything was alright.) I wish I had discovered this when I was still a bachelor.

For a time I was concerned that the slow cooker would take up too much electricity. That turns out not to be the case. My model slow cooker was rated at 200 watts. For good measure I checked our electric meter before and after cooking. It turns out to have taken only 2kW for the six hour cooking time.

The real test of whether I succeeded was when I served my creations to my Mom and Dad. Mom will always appreciate what I make but Dad can be quite picky. When Dad went for the second serving of that pulled pork, well, I knew I had it made. I had levelled up.