Adventures in Slow Cooking- Lentil & Bacon Stew

fml-Slow Cookers Anne Shooter-4.jpg It’s not been an easy few weeks in Boomboom land, so today I took to one of my favourite therapeutic activities, namely making a big mess in my little kitchen, with better results than usual for both my appetite and general stress levels.

The main activity of the day will come in later writings to add to The Xmas Files, but around sorting that out I decided to have another bash at getting a decent dinner out of my slow cooker. I have to say I was hoping to have a chapter of slow cooking stuff by now but the hit rate since the presentation of his valentines gift (ah, the romance!) has been in the lower percentile to put it kindly. I’ve managed one absolutely knock out tomato and basil and pepper stew type thing, a passable barley risotto and maybe a dozen mildly disappointing curries, soups and watery stews. I’d say it’s been a learning curve but I can’t quite explain why what has worked has worked, and why the nots really didn’t. Each time I have worked on the basic slow cooking principles as provided by google but there seems to be no science to it- the kitchen gods are on my side once in a while but more often than not they have gone out for Chinese instead. I can say with confidence only three things on the subject of my slow cooker:

1: Slow cooking wont make good of crappy or tired ingredients. If you wouldn’t eat it fresh, don’t bother slow cooking it.

2: The low setting aint cooking anything in less than half a day, if you’re lucky. Even longer if you keep taking the lid off to check it.

3: In slow cooking, as in life, bacon is very often your friend.

So, here we are, present day, a free and slow starting Saturday and another attempt to tame that stainless steel beast into making me a half decent dinner. The usual principles apply, the staples are all in stock and bless my onions if it didn’t all turn out rather wonderfully tonight. So wonderfully in fact that my confidence is restored, and herein begins the chapters of Adventures In Slow Cooking, where I will endeavour to report all further outings, good and bad.

Slow Cooker Lentils & Bacon

All ingredients and times assume a 4.5L slow cooker

Serves 3-4

2 cups dry split red lentils
300g smoked cooking bacon, trimmed of fat and rinsed
4 medium carrots
5 celery stalks with leaves if possible
500ml vegetable stock
1 tin or carton chopped plum tomatoes
1 cup carrot juice
Dried piri piris or fresh red chillies to taste
4 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
Black pepper

The real joy of slow cooking is that it is more or less a dump and go job. I say more or less as there are a couple of touches for this method before you just chuck it all in the pot and bugger off for 5-6 hours.

To begin, chop up your carrots and celery and mince the garlic then throw into your cold slow cooker. Add the lentils, bay leaf, chillies if using and pepper before pouring on the stock, tomatoes and carrot juice. Next, the meat.
Now please indulge me while we have a word about cooking bacon. It is generally a bona fide bargain if you don’t mind not having rashers and take a little bit of care to have a good look and select a pack with less fat and gristly looking bits. Cooking bacon does however tend to be on the saltier side, to the point that it can spoil a dish like this which is why we rinse it. There’s a lot of hype about rinsing meat and I’m just going to say that I have never suffered from the food poisonings with the following method, used immediately before you start cooking: Cut the bacon into rough chunks and trim the fat then transfer to a large colander. Then in a clean sink, without any dishes drying or pan scourers etc anywhere near by, rinse the bacon under a slow stream of cold water (so it doesn’t splash raw bacon run off all over the place). You don’t need to go overboard, just a brief rinse of all the bits. Leave it to drain for a minute (literally a minute, time it!) then put the bacon on top of the other ingredients in the pot, stir it all well then put the lid on and switch to high. Wash your hands and clean the sink thoroughly.
Now before you head out to the shops or sit down to watch Titanic set a timer for about 15 minutes. When you return the lentils will have started to absorb some of the liquid, top up now so the liquid covers the entire mix well. Give it another stir and then bugger off and please yourself for at least four hours, probably more like 5.
Keep a casual eye on your modern day cauldron on after this point and take little tasters as you please to make sure everything is tender and seasoned to your taste.  Do not taste the stew before it has been at a low simmer for atleast 45 minutes, there’s bacon in there! You may wish to top up the liquid at various points depending how much moisture is yeilded from the veg you use, for the sake of flavour I would have some extra stock kept by for this but in a pinch you can use water and it should be at least warm when added if not hot to avoid putting your cooking temperature back down.

You’ll get four decent bowls out of this one and it’s great served with some chunky buttered bread and more freshly milled black pepper. Delicious!

Not the prettiest dinner going, but a mighty tasty one, and thrifty too.

Not the prettiest dinner going, but a mighty tasty one, and thrifty too.

Variations: Easily veganised by leaving out the bacon or the carnivores might wish to swap it for chorizo or even kabanos and chicken stock will work as well as vegetable. If you use rasher bacon, still trim it but no need to rinse. For a sweeter finish use half carrots and half parsnips. You could add some curry powder and leave out the bayleaf or experiment with adding some fresh herbs 3 hours into the cooking time. If you don’t have the carrot juice use extra stock. 

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