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.

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