Pictured: Slow Cooker Pork Enchilada recipe from CHOW
I'm not gonna lie. I'm kind of a snob about slow cookers. For me, cooking is a meditative, therapeutic process that involves a lot of chopping and stirring, and ransacking the kitchen. There's no Zen in the slow cooker's set-it-and-forget-it style of cooking. Worst of all, most of the recipes geared for slow cookers seem like adult baby food: mushy, homogenous stews or tough hunks of meat "braised" in cloying, bottled sauce and billed as "barbecue." Blech.
My challenge: to find a handful of slow cooker recipes that defy the stereotype. Dishes you'd serve to the snobbiest of food snobs and smile when they say, incredulously, "This came out of a Crock Pot?"
1. Slow Cooker Duck Confit
A classic French dish meets the classic 'Murican kitchen appliance, with delicious results. Get our Slow Cooker Duck Confit recipe.
2. Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo
This version of the Filipino national dish might upset the beloved lolas who spend hours toiling on their special adobo. The signature vinegar twang is here, although you might miss the heat (add a bird's eye chili to spice it up). Take the advice of commenters: top the final dish with cracklins made from the "discarded" chicken skin. Get our Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo recipe.
3. Slow Cooker Pork Ramen
No doubt, the ramen police would flag this recipe as a phony, but the proof is in the broth. Despite the note saying otherwise, don't think of the browning process as optional–it's an essential step and one that benefits most meaty slow-cooker recipes. Get our Slow Cooker Pork Ramen recipe.
4. Slow Cooker Mango Tapioca Pudding
This one might fall into the "adult baby food" category, if not for the decidedly exotic flavors and the extra step of adding an egg to make a rich, creamy custard. Get our Slow Cooker Mango Tapioca Pudding recipe.
5. Pork Rillettes
Crock Pot charcuterie has a certain ring to it, right? This rich, rustic pate is swanky enough to serve at a fancy dinner party, but it's also a chic picnic bring-along because the meat is preserved in its own fat and served at room temperature. Get the recipe here.
6. Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks with Lemon, Dill, and Feta
Go ahead and enjoy that Dr Pepper–drowned pulled pork slider. I'll be tucking into this sophisticated, melt-in-your-mouth lamb (probably with my sleeves rolled up and juice dribbling down the front of my shirt). Get the recipe here.
7. Slow Cooker Cassoulet
Comfort food doesn't get any more comforting than this classic French dish, and if there's one home cook who can transform the recipe into a slow cooker winner, it's the New York Times and How to Cook Everything food author man Mark Bittman. Get the recipe here.
8. Slow Cooker Lamb, Apricot and Olive Tagine
This recipe delivers all of the exotic mileage of the North African dish, without requiring the special clay cooking pot it's named for. The lamb is fall-apart tender and the sweet apricot meets briny olive contrast is a stunner. Get the recipe here.
9. Slow Cooker Bacon Compote
There's almost nothing you won't want to put this sweet and savory compote on. Schmear it on hamburgers and topped with blue cheese. Spread it on the toasted bread or biscuit of a fried egg sandwich. Serve it with your next cheese tray. Scoop it into your piehole with a spoon when no one's looking. We won't judge. Get our Slow Cooker Bacon Compote recipe.
10. Slow Cooker Pork Enchiladas
Far from the typical one-pot dish, the slow cooker in this recipe is "merely a crucial stop in a longer journey." That's a poetic cooking philosophy I can get behind. Get our Slow Cooker Pork Enchiladas recipe.
11. Salmon Slow Cooked with Herbs
Disregard 99 percent of the slow cooker poached fish recipes you'll find on the World Wide Webs unless you're angling for disintegrated, overcooked fish filets. This one gets it right by fashioning a foil "hammock" for the fish, which poaches in a pan sauce without overcooking. Get the recipe here.
12. Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese
This is the kind of slow cooker recipe I can get behind: dirty up a skillet to get the critical browning/seasoning step right, then throw it all in your Crock Pot for the boring, hands-off simmering step. Get our Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese recipe.
13. Crème Brûlée
A pastry instructor at the International Culinary Center in NYC once told me that crème brûlée is the gold standard dessert she uses to judge a student's ability. This recipe would pass her rigorous standards, no doubt, and is an ingenious way to multi-task a slow cooker into service as a bain-marie. Keep the technique in mind any time you're making a dish that requires a water bath (think: cheesecake, terrines, mousses). Get the recipe here.
Colleen Rush is a food and travel writer who eats, drinks, cooks, and writes mostly in New Orleans, but also ... everywhere else. She is the author of "The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining" (Broadway Books, 2006), and coauthor of "Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons" (Running Press, 2009) and the upcoming "Low & Slow 2: The Art of Barbecue, Smoke Roasting, and Basic Curing" (Running Press, 2015). Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.