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Slow-Cooked Meat: Tender And Juicy

Slow cookers, also known as crock pots, have been around for years. But today's equipment has come a long way from what our mothers used. They're now more convenient and they make better meals, using features like timers and automatic shut-off.

Cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie showed the way Thursday in The Early Show's "Five-Minute Cooking School," at the Manhattan flagship store of specialty home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma. Ritchie says the extended cooking times concentrate the flavors and produce exceptionally tender meats.

RECIPES

Braised lamb shanks

Braised in a slow cooker, these lamb shanks are falling-off-the-bone tender. Serve with buttery egg noodles, mashed potatoes or creamy polenta to soak up the flavorful sauce.

1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 lamb shanks, external fat trimmed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine

Put the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme and bay leaf in a slow cooker and stir to combine.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until it's nearly smoking. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, about five minutes total. Transfer to the slow cooker.

Remove the sauté pan from the heat, pour in the wine and return to medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Add the wine to the slow cooker, cover and cook on high for six hours according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the lamb shanks to a large serving dish.

Remove the bay leaf from the cooking liquid. Using a blender or stick blender, puree the liquids and solids until smooth. Pour some of the sauce over the shanks and pass the rest alongside. Serves four.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Pulled pork sandwiches

Each region of the country has its own proud barbecue tradition, and in North Carolina, it's pulled pork that rules. The recipe traces its roots to pig pickin's. At these Southern events, a hog is barbecued for hours, after which the meat is pulled from the bones, shredded by hand and slathered with a spicy sauce. With our recipe, which uses a slow cooker, you can savor fork-tender, flavorful pork at home — without having to stoke a barbecue and turn the spit.

3 1/2 tablespoons grilling rub for ribs
1 quart warm water, plus more as needed
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups mustard & molasses grilling sauce, plus more for serving (optional)
8 to 10 hamburger buns, split and toasted

In a large bowl, dissolve 2 tablespoons of the grilling rub in the quart of warm water.

Put the pork in a slow cooker. Add the onion and carefully pour in the water mixture, adding more water if needed to almost cover the pork. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for three hours. Using roast lifters or tongs, turn the pork over and cook until the meat shreds easily when pulled with a fork, about two hours more. Continue cooking as needed, up to one hour more.

Transfer the pork to a baking sheet, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let cool for one hour. Using two forks, shred the meat, discarding any fat, and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the remaining 1½ tablespoons of the grilling rub and the 2½ cups of grilling sauce.

To serve, place about 2/3 cup of the pork on the bottom of each bun. Top with more sauce and the tops of the buns. Arrange the sandwiches on a platter and serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.

Chicken stew in white wine

This variation on the classic French stew coq au vin uses white wine instead of the traditional red and also includes potatoes, so it makes a great one-pot meal. After five hours in a slow cooker, the chicken turns out exceptionally tender and juicy.

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into 8 serving pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 bacon slices, chopped
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces white button mushrooms, quartered
1 pound red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups white wine

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat evenly.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm half of the olive oil until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a slow cooker. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken. Add the bacon, onion, mushrooms, potatoes, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and stock to the slow cooker and stir to combine.

Remove the sauté pan from the heat, pour the wine into the pan and return to medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Add the wine to the slow cooker, cover and cook on high for five hours, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Spoon the stew into bowls and serve immediately. Serves four.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.