Slow cooker lessons and tips from Ricardo

One of Canada’s favourite celebrity chefs makes a case for cooking slow and steady.

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Photo, Christian Lacroix.

Ricardo, the mononymous cooking show host and Quebec household name, has turned his passion for homestyle cooking into an empire – which includes a magazine, television show, production company and five cookbooks. His first slow cooker book sold 160,000 copies — “When my wife suggested I create recipes for slow cookers, I laughed. I thought: ‘I still have years ahead of me. I don’t have to do that.’ But she was right. People do want it.” Taking a break between batch-shooting episodes for his new show, Ricardo chatted with Chatelaine about his latest cookbook, Slower is Better.

Related: 14 ways to make the most of your slow cooker this season

How is this book different from your first slow cooker bible?
I looked for more colours and textures. I went really multicultural. The beer and beef stew has something very Irish about it, the jambalaya has a Louisiana feel. There’s a beef cheek pappardelle that will make you feel like you’re the best Italian chef in the world,  a hot-and-sour tofu soup that makes you feel as if you were in Chinatown, and the page before has a sloppy joe recipe, which is very American. I’m going from one place to another to surprise people. There’s something for everyone.

I’ve never used a slow cooker before. Why should I start now?
You could take something from the freezer and put it in the microwave, but that doesn’t create a moment. If someone is cooking in your house, all of a sudden it smells good and everyone is hungry. Slow cookers are made to bring people around the table, whether it’s sharing about your funny or tough day, an update for your wife or girlfriend or children, or a group of students around the table talking about the pressure of university. Slow cookers can help people who feel rushed to slow down.

I think people love to cook, but they have a problem with time and lack of confidence. Another one of the biggest things people are afraid of is over and undercooking things. A slow cooker solves all these problems because it saves you time and it can’t overcook. Your friends could be 20 minutes late, and it will be just perfect because slow cookers are created to stay there for hours – you can entertain without this pressure of keeping things warm.

What should I look for in a slow cooker?
Five to six litres is the standard size — you’ll be able to cook whatever you want from any recipe. If you can’t fit a whole chicken or a piece of ham in it, it’s too small. You should never pay $200 for a slow cooker. The less technology there is, the better – it’s going to break anyway. What you want to look for is, ‘high,’ ‘low,’ and ‘keep warm.’ And you should be able to put the amount of minutes you want. Some jump by 15-minute intervals, but you should be able to put it for an extra 10 minutes and play with the numbers. Any other features aren’t necessary.

Related: Instant Pot – the Canadian kitchen appliance blowing people’s minds

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made in a slow cooker?
You’re killing me! That’s like forcing me to choose my favourite child. It changes all the time. Three weeks ago, I was big on Indian food — just buy some naan bread at the store, cook up some rice and you’ve got butter chicken for days. At the present moment, my favourite is beef lettuce wraps. It’s great around the table, because everyone has all the meat, vegetables and garnishes they need for their own little wrap. I have a daughter who is more vegetarian and will put less meat on hers. Everyone can pick and assemble their own dish and nobody argues. It’s great for kids if you want peace around the table, and all it takes is putting everything in the slow cooker and adding vegetables on the table – nothing more. But if you call me next week, it’ll be something else.

What’s the most surprising thing you can make in a slow cooker?
I’m always surprising people with my desserts. People don’t associate desserts too much with the slow cooker and I love to play with that. A crème caramel (recipe below) is so simple. It has only has four ingredients, but because it’s simple, it’s easy to miss it too. If you overcook it, it tastes like an omelet and you will have pockets in it. Mine is a maple one, so it’s different.

Maple crème caramel

Maple syrup crème caramel from Ricardo
Photo, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Preparation 20 min
Cooking 1 hour 30 min
Cooling 4 hours
Servings 4

1/2 cup (105 g) sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) maple syrup
1 tbsp (15 ml) corn syrup

2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup (40 g) maple sugar
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) 35% heavy cream

1. CARAMEL In a saucepan, bring the sugar and syrups to a boil. Cook without stirring until the mixture turns golden brown. Pour evenly into four 1-cup (250 ml) ramekins. Let cool.

2. FLAN In a bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk with the maple sugar until smooth. Add the milk and cream. Mix thoroughly. Pour into the ramekins and place in the slow cooker. Pour enough cold water into the cooker to reach halfway up the ramekins.

3. Cover and cook on Low for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the flan has just set. Remove the ramekins from the cooker and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours or until completely chilled.

4. Just before serving, run the blade of a thin knife around the flan, flip onto a plate and serve cold.

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