Six years ago when I was planning my wedding, setting up the registry took a lot of thought. We registered at Target and had already been living together, so I was thinking about the essentials for a properly outfitted (as opposed to college-era cobbled together) new household, mostly the kitchen. We didn’t want or need a bunch of useless gadgets and tchotchkes – we certainly didn’t need three different types of blenders (One for the bar! One for hot liquids! One that’s immersible!) or an assortment of chef-themed wall décor with matching oil cruets and napkin holders.
We needed a crockpot.
To many new brides of my generation, crockpots are antiquated. They are the harbingers of mushy Sunday roasts or scary goulash with elbow macaroni concoctions that our mothers used to throw on before they hurried out to work. The crockpots of yesteryear were ugly (brown fake wood paneling, anyone?) and fire hazards just waiting to happen with the one setting they were equipped with – on. They were not a tool used to make tasty, visually appealing dinners, and certainly not anything that could possibly resemble “gourmet”.
Times have changed, and so has the crockpot. There are the standard sized crockpots of course, but now you can choose round or oval. You can go with classic white, or a color that matches your kitchen (red seems to be pretty popular these days), or sleek and sophisticated stainless steel. Most of them have table-friendly black stoneware inserts that just demand to be the dinner table’s centerpiece. There are super-size crockpots for large parties, and mini sized crockpots that are perfect for one, or keeping your special chip dip warm and cozy. And convenience and safety features abound. High and low settings of course, but most are programmable – set your time and it will turn off at the appointed hour all by itself, and switch to the warm setting so you food is perfectly cooked and ready to eat whenever you are. Some of them come with a potluck-friendly insulated carrying case, so you can take your crockpotted dinner around the way without any trouble.
So I registered for my crockpot, and excitedly unwrapped it and hauled it home from my bridal shower. I dreamt of all the fuss-free meals I could now prepare as I stowed it in the cupboard. And then it just stayed there. I made that classic Sunday pot roast a few times over the years, but that was it. It was just another kitchen tchotchke that I had hidden away.
Until recently. My husband has a minor addiction to rotisserie chicken. And store-bought rotisserie chicken isn’t exactly cheap. So in the course of chit-chatting with my sister on the topic, she tells me that she makes her own. In her crockpot. I didn’t believe her, so I deigned to try it myself. It just seemed too easy… to good to be true.
For Crockpot Rotisserie Chicken, you put a whole chicken in your crockpot. It’s best to elevate it off the bottom – if you have a small enough rack use that, or you can use a tinfoil ring to keep it off the bottom. Season the bird with salt and pepper, and whichever herbs and spices you might like and lay some lemon slices on top. Put the crockpot on low and leave it alone for eight hours. No liquid is correct – you’ll be surprised that the lemons and juices from the chicken will be enough, but they are. You have to see it to believe it.
The chicken will be fall-off-the-bone moist and tender – the skin will be lightly browned and crisp and it will taste like store-bought rotisserie chicken only much, much better. It’s so versatile you can eat it with alarming regularity if you vary the seasonings – you can do a soy-sauce and honey glaze. Cover it with a barbecue rub. Herbs de provence and a little white wine. Roasted garlic and butter. Anything at all.
But chicken isn’t just it. I’ve baked bread in my crockpot, and it comes out better than when I do it in the oven – a crockpot more closely mimics a bread oven, allowing for a crisp crust and a chewy interior. You can do fancy stews like coq a vin, pulled pork (a personal favorite at our house), barbecued ribs, jambalaya or gumbos and though I haven’t tried it yet, you can even make apple butter in your crockpot! You can do cakes, dips, meatballs, Italian beef, chili, and serve hot drinks (what’s better than mulled wine in the winter?) all from your crockpot.
If you want a spice cake or fresh bread for breakfast, let it bake overnight while you’re sleeping – fresh baked goods as soon as you wake up! If you want dinner on the table as soon as you come in at night, prep everything the night before in the insert, then throw it in the crockpot and set the timer before you leave in the morning. It’s a great way to have good, wholesome, homemade food fast. Rotisserie chicken convinced me to reacquaint myself with my beloved crockpot, so I encourage everyone to dust off theirs and get cooking!