Seafood goes swimmingly in the slow cooker

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photoThai-Inspired Slow-Cooker Tilapia.
photoOlive-Oil-Braised Tuna With Orange-Olive Tapenade.
photoSlow-Cooker Salmon With Shallot and Green Beans.

If Phyllis Pellman Good could do it all over again, she would certainly rethink the fish soup recipe. As the author of half a dozen books packed with dishes for the slow cooker — that minivan of kitchen appliances — Good develops recipes with multiple ingredients and mostly just two steps:

• Put everything in the cooker.

• Set the timer for six or eight or 10 hours.

Her fish chowder is more complicated. There’s a third step, sauteing an onion, and another calls that for adding half-and-half during the last hour of cooking.

But if she were writing the recipe today, says Good, who with her husband, Merle, owns Good Books Publishing based in Intercourse, Pa., “I’d add the fish at the end.” Good’s “Fix it and Forget It” series of slow-cooker books has sold more than 11 million copies.

Fish in the slow cooker seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Fillets cook quickly — albeit with a narrow window between done and dry, especially when they are baked. The most common reaction to my recent kitchen experiments has been: What’s the point?

In our house, fish is often an afterthought. My fussy teenage daughter won’t eat the stuff, but my partner, Dan, doesn’t eat terrestrials. So if the menu I’m preparing for my kid has meat, he’ll coat a hunk of fish with packaged breading and slap it in a frying pan a few minutes before dinnertime, leaving a crusty surface and a lingering odor.

In the meantime, I’ve fallen hard for my slow cooker. Around Christmas, wooed partly by the surge of special recipes that kept wandering into my inbox and by the beautiful cookbooks displayed at tony kitchen stores, I gave away the old white model that had been moldering in the basement and treated my kitchen to a new stainless-steel slow cooker.

Preparing meals just seemed too easy. A chicken thrown into the pot before I head out for the day is fall-off-the-bone succulent several hours later; lamb stew simmers all day. I even made a lasagna that emerged with its layers intact. The cooker uses little energy and doesn’t require anyone to stand over it. I was so enchanted, I wanted to share the love with Dan.

My first attempt at slow-cooker fish was alarmingly successful: a drizzle of oil in the ceramic insert, some coarsely chopped shallots and smashed garlic, a hunk of farm-raised salmon. I squeezed lemon juice over the fish and set the cooker to low. An hour later, a creamy, kind-of-poached salmon emerged. With a smattering of chopped fresh dill, it was dinner.

A similar preparation appears in “The New Slow Cooker,” Brigit Binn’s book for Williams-Sonoma. She sets her salmon in a tarragon-and-white-wine-based broth that has already heated for 30 minutes. Yet the results are the same: “The texture is amazing,” she says. The low-and-slow method of cooking fish, she adds, “kind of approaches sous vide.”

Technique has evolved, as well. “You can’t just dump and go,” says Julia Collin Davison, executive food editor at America’s Test Kitchen, which publishes Cook’s Illustrated and a raft of cookbooks. The more hands-on approach is what most slow-cooker fish recipes call for.

Davison says she had an “aha” moment while experimenting with fish: “Not only is it incredibly easy in the slow cooker, but it’s good.”

Thai-Inspired Slow-Cooker Tilapia

4 servings

This was an experiment, based on an improvised wok preparation. The microwave head start for the sweet potatoes and garlic was recommended via a consult with Julia Collin Davison at America’s Test Kitchen. You’ll need a 5½- to 6-quart slow cooker. Make ahead: The base sauce with rice and sweet potato needs to cook for 1½ to 2 hours before the remaining ingredients are added. From Baltimore freelance writer and editor Martha Thomas.

1 large (about 1 pound) sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces

6 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

1 cup raw jasmine rice or Thai red rice

14 ounces no-salt-added stewed tomatoes, whole or diced

Water

7 ounces canned low-fat coconut milk (about 1 cup)

3 to 4 teaspoons Thai red curry paste

1 pound tilapia fillets

6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, rolled and cut crosswise into thin ribbons, for garnish

Combine the sweet potato and garlic in a baking dish. Microwave on high for 8 minutes; the sweet potato should be slightly softened.

Combine the oil and rice in the slow cooker, stirring to coat. Add the parcooked sweet potato and garlic, stewed tomatoes and enough water to barely cover (about 1½ cups). Cover and cook on high for 1½ to 2 hours. (The time will depend on which rice you use; the jasmine rice cooks quicker than the red rice.) The rice and potato should be tender, and the liquid should be absorbed.

Gently stir in the coconut milk and curry paste (to taste). Cover and cook on high for 10 to 20 minutes, then uncover and gently add the fish, pressing to submerge it in the rice mixture. Cover and cook on high for 15 to 20 minutes; the fish should be opaque and flake easily. Use a slotted thin spatula to transfer the fish, along with some of the rice mixture, to individual plates. Garnish with the basil. Alternatively, stir to form a thick, messy stew, then spoon it into individual bowls. Garnish each portion with basil. Serve warm.

Per serving: 510 calories, 29 g protein, 69 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 11 g sugar.

Olive Oil-Braised Tuna With Orange-Olive Tapenade

4 to 6 servings

Because the fish spends such a short time in the cooker, the first 30 minutes are spent developing flavor in the braising liquid. You’ll need a 3-quart slow cooker for this recipe. Make ahead: Leftover tapenade can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s “The New Slow Cooker: Comfort Classics Reinvented” by Brigit Binns.

¼ cup no-salt-added vegetable broth (may substitute fish stock)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the spinach

¼ cup dry white or rose wine

½ medium onion, finely chopped

6 dried bay leaves (may substitute 3 fresh bay leaves)

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

Freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces fresh center-cut tuna, cut into thick steaks

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Grated zest of 1 orange

5 ounces pitted, mild green olives, such as Picholine or Lucques (about ¾ cup)

5 ounces pitted, brine-cured black olives, such as Niçoise (about ¾ cup)

1 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar

5 to 6 ounces fresh baby spinach

Combine the broth, 4 tablespoons of the oil, the wine, onion, bay leaves and salt in the slow cooker; season with pepper to taste. Stir, then cover and cook on low for 30 minutes. During this time, let the tuna steaks come to room temperature.

Add the tuna, turning to coat the pieces evenly. Cover and cook on low for 15 minutes; use a spatula to turn the steaks over, cover and cook for a total of up to 35 minutes, so the fish is opaque and firm (start checking after 25 minutes). Use a slotted spatula to transfer the fish to a cutting board or large plate, then use two forks to separate the pieces into large flakes. Cover loosely to keep warm. Discard the braising liquid.

While the fish is cooking, combine the garlic, orange zest, olives, vinegar and the remaining tablespoon of oil in a food processor. Pulse to form a thick puree. The yield is about 1½ cups.

When ready to serve, toss the spinach in a mixing bowl with a little oil to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among individual plates, creating a bed for the tuna. Distribute the fish evenly among the portions. Top with the tapenade. Serve at room temperature.

Per serving (based on 6, using half of the tapenade): 110 calories, 14 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.

Slow-Cooker Salmon With Shallot and Green Beans

6 servings

This method of cooking is akin to poaching in the flavorful liquid of a court bouillon: The moist environment produces salmon that is mild-tasting, nonoily and softly flaky. And you’ll smell no aroma of fish in the house as it cooks. Precooking the braising liquid pays off, creating a complex broth that subtly perfumes the fish. You’ll need a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker. Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s “The New Slow Cooker: Comfort Classics Reinvented” by Brigit Binns.

½ cup water

½ cup no-salt-added vegetable broth

1 cup dry white wine

½ small onion, thinly sliced

3 sprigs tarragon, plus 1 teaspoon minced tarragon leaves

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Six 5-ounce skin-on salmon fillets

1 pound haricots verts, trimmed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar (may substitute white wine vinegar)

Combine water, broth, wine, onion, tarragon sprigs and salt in the cooker. Season with pepper to taste. Stir, then cover and cook on low for 30 minutes.

Add fillets; it’s OK if they overlap. Cover and cook on low for 1 hour or until the fish is opaque and tender. Use a thin, slotted spatula to carefully transfer the fish to a platter, discarding the skin. Cover loosely to keep warm. Discard the braising liquid and tarragon sprigs.

While the fish is cooking, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the haricots and blanch for about 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Immediately drain and rinse under cool water. Spread on a clean dish towel or paper towels to dry.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and stir; cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the haricots and stir and warm through, then add the vinegar and minced tarragon, tossing to incorporate.

Scatter the haricots and shallot over and around the fillets. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 230 calories, 30 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar.

Slow-Cooker Garlicky Shrimp

6 to 8 appetizer servings

The gentle heat of the slow cooker is terrific for producing shrimp that are not overcooked. The poaching oil gets a 30-minute head start to develop flavor and soften the raw garlic. For easy, hands-on eating, leave the tails on the shrimp. You’ll need a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker for this recipe. Serve with crusty bread for dipping. Adapted from “The Slow Cooker Revolution, Volume 2: The Easy Prep Edition” from America’s Test Kitchen.

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton; may substitute sweet paprika)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 pounds extra-large (26-30 count) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Combine the oil, garlic, paprika, salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes in the slow cooker, stirring until blended. Cover and cook on high for 30 minutes.

Stir in the shrimp to coat evenly; cover and cook on high for about 10 minutes, then stir to ensure the shrimp are cooking evenly. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until all of the shrimp are just opaque.

Transfer the shrimp and some of the sauce to a wide, shallow serving dish. Sprinkle with the parsley. Serve warm.

Per serving (based on 8, with half of the sauce): 210 calories, 23 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 170 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.