Once I moved in with the Belgian who's now my husband and started cooking again, I had to get used to a new kitchen, his pots and pans, and the mysteries of the Belgian grocery store--not to mention using the metric system for measurements. Everything was different. Time and time again, I found myself wishing I had my old potato ricer, or my old garlic press, or my set of nesting glass mixing bowls.
One of the things I missed the most was my Crock-Pot (the original slow cooker). I had an old one that belonged to my mother and probably dated from the mid-1970's. It, like all of my kitchen wares, stayed in Los Angeles with one of my friends. (To this day, I can spot my former belongings when I walk into a friend's house. "Hey, isn't that one of my coffee mugs?")
This is what my old Crock-Pot looked like
I started looking around for a new one... and quickly discovered that Belgians don't use slow cookers. They're hard to find, and the ones you do find (in specialty kitchen stores) tend to be expensive. Walk into any electronics store here and you will see two dozen home fryers... but not a single Crock-Pot. For the record, I never knew anyone in the Unites States who owned a deep fryer. But anyone who cooks is sure to own a Crock-Pot. Or two.
I find this absence of slow cookers puzzling considering the Belgian love of soups and stews. These days, people are getting creative and making all kinds of exotic things in their Crock-Pots: chicken mole, bread pudding, Chinese barbecue pork. But the Crock-Pot was made for dishes that need long cooking times, like your classic boeuf carbonnade or stoofvlees, a Belgian menu staple.
When I've asked people around here why they don't use slow cookers, I first have to explain what it is. And then I have to try and convince them that it's useful to be able to assemble your stew or soup, put it in the pot, turn it on and leave it for hours. Americans love the convenience of being able to cook something while they're at work, or sleeping, or out watching a softball game or a movie.
Belgians just can't seem to see the point. They're perfectly happy cooking their soups and stews on the stove, or in the oven, tending the fire and checking the pot for hours. At least, that's what they tell me. I suspect that if they actually had a Crock-Pot, and learned how to use it, they'd love it just as much as we Americans do.
This is what a fancy new Crock-Pot looks like
We threw a Hawaiian-themed party for friends who couldn't make it to our wedding last year, and two of my friends volunteered to make kalua pork. For those of you who have never tasted kalua pork, let me tell you that it's one of the tastiest things you can do to a pig, and the Crock-Pot is the perfect tool for making it at home. Traditionally, kalua pork was made by roasting a whole pig in an underground firepit. The Crock-Pot is much easier.
Once my husband had tasted kalua pork, he was very motivated to buy a slow cooker when we got home. (The Crock-Pot brand isn't available here.) Luckily, the Aldi (a German discount grocery chain) near our house had them for a limited time and I picked one up for only 25 € the week we got back. I have great plans for it, starting with chicken mole and kalua pork. But I'm also planning to cook Belgian dishes in it too.
So begins my campaign to convert an entire country to the joys of the slow cooker.