There are two ways to use your slow cooker. Ninety-eight percent of America uses it as a time-saving device. They are too busy to cook, so they careless toss things into it — chicken breasts, Good Seasons Italian dressing or Hidden Valley Ranch packets, jars of Ragu, chipmunks, shredded cheese, and/or sour cream — in an effort to prepare something called “dinner.” Us remainders, the civilized 2 percent, use it because braising a piece of meat in an unattended oven while at work is unsafe.
I’ve seen people take perfectly good pieces of beef and pork and render them an overcooked gray. I’ve seen recipes on Pinterest that brag about some cheesy chicken concoction that kids love to eat. Everything that comes out is a thoughtless mess of otherwise good food that has been forced to sit in one place together for too long. Dinner from a crockpot is what happens when you put food through jury duty.
But, back to my snobbery and the correct use of a slow cooker. The primary means of cooking is a braise: take a hunk of fatty, tough meat, steep it in liquid, onion, garlic and herbs, and let it go for 8 to 10 hours. I’m using the same slow cooker that we got for our wedding in 2002. I probably bust it out 3 to 4 times a year, usually to make stew beef. Had this been a Saturday, I would have used a braising pan and done this in the oven at 300 degrees for about 3 to 4 hours. But, I have a job and The Wife likes my bi-weekly paycheck, so slow cooker it is.
WHAT WORKED: The original recipe called for a two-pound, bone-in pork shoulder. The only two pounders I could find were boneless. While the flavor from the marrow would have been nice, I was happy with the boneless results.
WHAT DIDN’T: It turns out that we have no wine in the house. I know, right? The Wife is down to her last glass of riesling and I’m all out of white and red to cook with. A dry red would have been nice, but a cup of beef stock provided enough flavor in its stead. Also, it didn’t occur to me to take photos until I was getting ready to serve.
WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “This is very tasty. I bet it will be even better tomorrow.”
WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Yes, though I might try it in the oven next time or cut the recipe in half to make a sauce for ravioli or gnocchi.
Slow Cooker Pork Shoulder Pasta
Adapted from Jennifer Olvera’s original at Serious Eats
2 1/2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
4 to 5 oz. diced pancetta
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
6 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 cup dry red wine
28 oz. can whole, peeled Roma tomatoes, hand-crushed
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound tube-shaped pasta, cooked
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Set pork shoulder in the slow cooker and generously season with salt and pepper. Add onion, garlic, tomatoes, wine and herbs. Stir liquid gently with a large spoon to combine. Cover and cook for at least 8 but up to 10 hours.
Transfer pork to a cutting board or large plate and shred with two forks. Dispose of any fatty chunks. Transfer shredded pork to the cooker and stir to combine.
In the meantime, prepare your pasta per the manufacturer’s directions. Drain the pasta and toss with the pork sauce. Serve hot with grated cheese and crusty bread.