Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Apr

The Allure of Crock Pots

I recently received an email from a reader:

Mark,

First of all, I have enjoyed getting to know more about the Primal Blueprint and I have found it to be very useful. Perhaps you have addressed this before, but do you have any primal recipes for crock pots? I am on the go quite a bit and would love to have a few healthy options.

Thanks and keep up the great work!

John

Great suggestion. Slow cooking is more relevant than ever, with free time evaporating and the need for easy Primal fare made with minimal effort only increasing. When the novelty wears off and the prospect of coming up with home cooked Primal meals every day begins to loom, I think a lot of people will turn to the crock pot.

Slow cooking has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t always so easy. Before the crock pot, pots had to be watched, stews had to be carefully and routinely stirred, and soups were in constant danger of boiling over. Traditional slow cooking required the cook’s full attention, but crock pots allowed the same cooks to prepare the food in the morning, set the timer, and go about their business. At day’s end, dinner would be ready – flawless, effortless. Crock pots allowed men and women to provide delicious, home cooked meals for their families while retaining the ability to hold daytime jobs. They didn’t heat up the home, they were fairly inexpensive, and they weren’t going to start a fire if left unattended.

It’s not just the safety factor that makes the crock pot the perfect cooking tool for the perpetually busy Primal Blueprinter; it’s the fact that messing up a crock pot recipe is nearly impossible, even for the most clueless of cooks. Just grab a bunch of ingredients – meat, vegetables, spices, liquids – and toss ‘em into the pot. Stir things up. Set it on low if you’ll be gone all day, high if you’re gonna stick around. Walk away. Come back when the smell can’t be ignored and the meat is fork-shreddable. That’s it.

There’s no braising, searing, emulsifying, whisking, poaching, or broiling required with a crock pot. No preheating, no fussing with temperatures, no basting. It’s just plug and play, like a Primal toaster without the bread and with a much longer cooking time. Of course, you can try crock pot recipes that call for more steps, but those are tough to find (and even those recipes are relatively easy).

Are there any distinct health benefits to cooking low and slow? Well, it’s definitely better than high and fast, which can overcook and toughen meat. There will be no charred meat in site so you don’t have to worry about heterocyclic amines (HCAs) being a problem. AGEs would be less of an issue as well.

I maintain that the best way to break in your crock pot is to dive in head first with whatever tasty ingredients you have lying around. Frozen stew meat (yes, just throw it in frozen, no thawing required), a handful of peppercorns and sea salt, some carrots and squash, a bit of chicken stock – easy beef stew. Boneless chicken thigh, can of coconut milk, a bit of salt, pepper, curry powder and garam masala, a chile pepper or two – easy coconut curry. The possibilities are endless, and it’s honestly really hard to mess up.

My favorite crock pot dish, by far, is my modified version of director Richard Rodriguez’s (of Desperado/El Mariachi fame) Puerco Pibil recipe. It’s this tangy, earthy, spicy, incredibly complex mix of flavors that traditionally cooks with pork butt in the oven wrapped in banana leaves. I’ve found that using a crock pot to slow cook grass fed stewing beef in the sauce is just as good, but different.

Crock Pot Pibil

First, assemble the ingredients. This is the hardest part, depending on where you live. If you have access to a Hispanic foods market, you won’t have any issues and the ingredients are all cheap.

The Spice Mix
5 tbsp annatto seeds (also known as achiote, these dried red seeds give a peppery scent slightly reminiscent of nutmeg and taste peppery and sweet)
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
1 tbsp whole peppercorns

Using a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or a Magic Bullet (what I used), grind these ingredients into a fine powder and set them aside.

Next, blend together:
2 tbsp sea salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
Juice from 2 lemons
2 habanero peppers (remove the seeds or only use a single pepper if you’re sensitive to heat; I added the whole things)
8 cloves garlic

Add the spice mixture and blend together. It should look an earthy red.

Get your meat ready. I had pre-cut grass-fed stew meat – probably around 5 pounds worth. Any beef (or pork) will do. I almost wish my meat wasn’t so lean, so don’t worry about any fat (fat’s flavor). Just make sure it’s cut into 1-2 inch pieces. I bet even buffalo would work.

Dump the meat into the crock pot, followed by the liquid spice blend. Normally, you’d want to marinate this overnight, but using a crock pot will kill two birds with one stone and give you some serious flavor.

Add a splash or two of your best rum or tequila (I used some decent Caribbean dark rum from Trader Joe’s) and mix everything together. Your meat should be pretty much submerged in the liquid.

Cook it low and slow if you’ve got the patience. After about four or five hours, your food should be ready. If it’s not quite fork tender, let it cook some more. It won’t hurt it. If you’re gone for the entire day, a few extra hours will be fine. At the end, if there’s too much liquid, I sometimes remove the top and let it reduce down for a couple more hours. Serve with fresh avocado and cilantro.

Again, the hardest part is getting the spice mix. Once you have that, it takes about seven minutes to get everything ready, and then you just let it cook. Enjoy!

Share your favorite crock pot creations in the comment board and check back this weekend for another Primal crock pot recipe!

Further Reading:

Top 10 Spring Vegetables

Smart Fuel: Lamb

How to Make a Rockin’ Chicken Stock

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I think a crock pot is especially nice to have when you want to make a hearty homemade soup, or anything that takes a long time standing over the stove on a day of too many things to do.

    Donna wrote on April 15th, 2009
  2. Great post. I can’t wait to try this recipe. Though, those seeds might be a little tricky to find. I’ll probably just use pepper in its place.

    You sure are building quite an archive of Primal recipes. Good stuff, thanks…

    Manatoa wrote on April 15th, 2009
  3. Someone forwarded this to me and I thought it was pretty funny, so I’ll use it here in case anyone is wondering what a “Magic Bullet” is…

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=magic+bullet

    ;)

    Mark Sisson wrote on April 15th, 2009
  4. I remember this from the DVD, and I made it once with pork. The annatto seeds are vital, so I wouldn’t recommend skipping them.

    I found a good price on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/ANNATTO-SEED-1-5-lb-jar/dp/B000RHXGY8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=gourmet-food&qid=1239818486&sr=8-1

    1.5 lbs would last quite awhile.

    Price wrote on April 15th, 2009
  5. Thanks, this looks great. Having just discovered the Primal Blueprint a couple weeks ago, I’ve been easing into to it and never even considered using my crockpot, so far lots of big salads. I’m looking forward to seeing what this weekends crockpot recipe will be.

    Bradk wrote on April 15th, 2009
  6. My crockpot has been the cornerstone of my paleo cooking since I began two years ago. With experience I have come to favour minimal recipes, i.e. throw in the meat, and some generic herb/spice mix and go. There are not too many veggies that survive slow cooking well, but onions and carrots are the best bets.

    I use a standard lamp timer on it and cook overnight. This way I can prep it at 11PM, it shuts off at 6AM, and by the time I get up a couple of hours later, it’s cool enough to handle, transfer to containers and refrigerate or freeze.

    Geekay wrote on April 15th, 2009
  7. It’s like you have ESPN….or something. Was just talking on the phone today about how I desperately need to go get a crock pot. A sign from above…will make it happen!

    Mike OD - Life Spotlight wrote on April 15th, 2009
  8. my crockpot was the cornerstone of my cooking in college… haven’t pulled it out much since, but now i just might have to!

    Holly wrote on April 15th, 2009
  9. I love my crockpot! Ribs, whole chickens, stews, all come out wonderfully. It’s really an amazing invention.

    As an aside, Puerco Pibil is not made with beef…”puerco” is Spanish for pork.

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Life Spotlight

    Scott Kustes - Life Spotlight wrote on April 15th, 2009
  10. Good looking food, we’ll have to try that. Good reminder to get the pot out again.

    Crockpot meals are really good and some take no time to prep at all: Slow Pork

    WT - Food Ideas wrote on April 15th, 2009
  11. recipe sounds great! Since going primal, I use my crock pot and dutch oven at least 3 times a week. Crock pots are great, especially for tougher (and cheaper) cuts of meats that would otherwise be almost inedible.

    Sabrina McEwen wrote on April 15th, 2009
  12. Excellent timing! This is the third recipe I’ve seen since tweeting about my crock pot a couple days ago. I’m betting I can find all these ingredients locally.

    DaveC - DaveGetsFit wrote on April 15th, 2009
  13. WT-
    That recipe you linked calls for a half bottle of barbecue sauce. The typical off the self variety means you’ll be adding a bunch of high fructose corn syrup to that healthy piece of meat.

    DaveC - DaveGetsFit wrote on April 15th, 2009
  14. Mark,

    Great recipe! I’ve made pibil steamed in banana leaves before, but I’m going to try this version.

    I have to disagree on the frozen stew meat. Crock pots and slow cookers do not have the capability to heat fast enough, so the frozen meat will let the dish sit at a dangerous temperature for far too long. Of course the bacteria will die later on, when heated fully, but not before they have a chance to produce toxins that could make you sick. Not all food poisoning is from the bacteria itself, it can also be from the toxins created as byproducts of the bacteria (which are not destroyed by heat). Caution.

    You could even get actual bacterial food poisoning. A friend made stew, with frozen beef chunks. When she got home, 9 hours later on low, there were still frozen parts in the beef pieces, despite the liquid gently bubbling at the edges.

    Another common error (not yours) is taking the wrong shortcuts. Do not put the “stuff” in the fridge in the crock the night before to save time. It makes it heat too slowly and could be dangerous. The crock holds cold as well as heat. You can get it ready and put it in a bowl, but put it in a room temp crock in the morning.

    Also, don’t use the hot crock to store the food in the fridge. It retains heat and you could get sick, once again.

    Sorry for the longness…

    Roland

    Roland wrote on April 15th, 2009
  15. Roland,

    Thanks for the tips. I was thinking of mixing ingredients and refrigerating it overnight in the liner. I’ll skip that idea now. Also, I was reading another site last night while looking for crock pot do’s and don’ts, and I read a similar warning not to put in frozen meat.

    DaveC - DaveGetsFit wrote on April 15th, 2009
  16. This post couldn’t come at a better time. My wife just received a slow cooker for her birthday and we were looking for some good recipes. Thanks!

    Chris Robbin wrote on April 16th, 2009
  17. Grok-pot. sorry, couldn’t resist.

    warren wrote on April 16th, 2009
  18. Grok-pot. Awesome!

    Roland wrote on April 16th, 2009
  19. We use ours a lot during winter months for things like roasts. For whatever reason, our use falls during spring and summer.

    Greg wrote on April 16th, 2009
  20. What would be a good crock pot to buy? (Brand name)

    Thank you.

    tee wrote on April 16th, 2009
  21. I am going to try this recipe. I am curious about the amount of liquid. It looks like just over 1C, maybe 1.5C of liquid to 5#’s of meat? That wouldn’t submerge the meat, would it? Just add water…or stock? Thanks for any feedback from anyone else that may have tried this.

    JB wrote on April 16th, 2009
  22. Love my crock pot and this is one of my fav recipes;

    http://feelgoodeating.blogspot.com/search?q=crock+pot

    I’m going to try yuor version Mark.

    Marc

    Marc Feel Good Eating wrote on April 17th, 2009
  23. Tee, I have a Rival and it works very well.

    Cheers
    Scott

    Scott Kustes - Life Spotlight wrote on April 17th, 2009
  24. I’m going to try this on my next day off. I just need to find the annatto/achiote.

    JD wrote on April 18th, 2009
  25. Streaky bacon can donate fats to lean meat.

    Heh, this takes me back, we actually used to slow-cook over a real coal fire, chuck a load of stuff in a pot and leave it for half a day. Unfortunately the “stuff” usually consisted of root veggies (turnips, swedes/rutabaga) etc. and pearl barley, along with the onions carrots and rabbit (roadkill) hey what did I know, I was young . . .

    Trinkwasser wrote on April 18th, 2009
  26. In case anyone is wondering like I was about the fluid amount (see previous comment). There is plenty…no need to add. I ended up needing to leave the lid off a while to reduce. I used 1# chuck, 1# top round stew chunks(all grassfed/finished of course) and halved the recipe. It smells fantastic! Dinner is ready for later, just gotta steam up some veggies.

    JB wrote on April 18th, 2009
  27. Random question for all of you. I’ve grown fond of cooking whole chickens in the crock pot lately (along with vegetables and the like obviously).

    How much of a concern is the introduction of nervous system tissue when doing this? (i.e. prion diseases and the like). The bones get really soft, so much so that the bird just falls apart. This meat tastes great (as does everything else, where the fat juices have run over it) but it’s not really possible to keep the spine from crumbling like everything else when eating the bird, so I’m sure there is some introduction of CNS material into the broth.

    I know with commercially raised beef this is a big problem (much less so with grass fed). I’m not sure about with industrial chicken though.

    Chris - fitnessfail.com wrote on April 21st, 2009
  28. Came out very good, but I recommend halving the sea salt to 1 tablespoon.

    JD wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  29. Where is the fat in this meal? :-)

    Steven wrote on June 27th, 2009
    • When it’s made with pork, like it should be, it has plenty of fat.

      Jesse wrote on October 18th, 2010
  30. This is awesome, me and a couple friends made this last week, and we had no idea it was on here. Unfortunately we used rice as a base to soak up juices on the plate, but it was still delicious and overall very healthy. Will def try reducing the juices next time instead, since it was on the watery side.

    On a side note, garnish this with cilantro!! What started as just a garnish quickly turned into a side to mix in every couple of bites. It adds so much to the flavor of this recipe, and takes no extra effort.

    Jesse wrote on October 18th, 2010
  31. I’ve just started the hunt for paleo slow-cooker recipes and stumbled across this one. Looks delicious and will definitely try it!

    Also – It’s ROBERT Rodriguez you’re thinking of. :)

    Jason wrote on October 25th, 2010
  32. Mark, just a question – your recipes all seem to include quite a large amount of salt – I would have thought that with our fridges and freezers it would be unnecessary to preserve our meat.

    I am salt sensitive – and I know many people eat far too much salt (also sugar, trans fats etc.) especially in America also in Australia now.

    Glad to see that crockpots can be turned into GROKPOTS.

    Peggy wrote on December 28th, 2010
  33. What would be the proper serving size for this?

    J Dog wrote on February 6th, 2011
  34. FINALLY made this recipe (Took me forever to find the annatta seeds). But now I’m disappointed. Because this would be GREAT on tortillas, and I’m too lazy to make my own!

    Edward wrote on November 3rd, 2011
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