Domesticity Nouveau

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Slow Cooker Pork Loin

When it comes to basic cooking techniques, nothing is easier than dumping food in a slow cooker, turning it on and coming back hours later to dinner!  Yes, it really is that easy and it truly maximizes your lazy time.

This is a long post, so bear with me... If you are new to slow cooking, there are a few things to take into consideration when embarking on this lazy cooking technique.  None of it is difficult, but I want to set you up for success!

Yes, it is clean!
30 years of love takes a toll!
Slow cooker is the type of device, Crock-Pot is a brand.  Not that this has anything to do with actually cooking a meal, I just thought it was an interesting fact.  You can find slow cookers in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, from 1 Qt (4 cups) to 9 Qt (36 cups), footballs, hearts, pumpkins, square, industrial design, country kitchen design and any color of the rainbow.  Somewhere between 3 Qt and 6 Qt is most practical, it just depends on how much you want to cook at once.

Different sizes, makes and models cook at different temperatures and speeds; newer models of slow cookers cook a hotter and faster than older versions.  Recipes may need to have the time adjusted based on these differences.  You need to get to know your slow cooker, take it out for a date, get to know its likes and dislikes, really build a relationship with your tool.  This is best done on a weekend when you are home so that you can check it at the earliest finishing time.  It’s a shame to go to the effort of dumping in your ingredients, heading out for the day and coming home to an under- or over-cooked meal.  Once you get to know each other, you will have a good idea on how long you can leave your pot bubbling while you go have some fun.  

If you still have the instruction manual, read it.  If you don’t, you can likely do a quick internet search to find the company and download a copy.  It will be a dull read, not nearly as interesting as the wittiness (a-hem) of this blog.
Under-filled which resulted
in slightly dry Bavarian Pork Loin.

Use the right size cooker for the amount of food you are cooking.  Slow cookers perform best when 1/2 to 3/4 full.  Don’t under-fill or your food may over cook, don’t over fill or your food may take much longer to cook.  Keep your ingredients to within an inch from the top.  As you are getting the hang of slow cookers, an instant read thermometer is the best way to know if you have reached safe cooking temperatures for your finished foods. 

Don’t open the lid.  Don’t walk by and stir.  Set it and forget it.  Every time you open the lid, you slow down the cooking process.  When you are getting to know your cooker, it is okay to open the lid at the earliest finish time, i.e. your recipe says cook on low 4-6 hours, you can check at 4 hours to see if it has reached a safe cooking temperature.

Don’t add unnecessary liquid.  The tiniest amount of liquid is needed to properly cook vegetables and keep meat moist.  Large pieces of meat cooked on low do not require liquid.  When cooking small and/or lean meat pieces, or with high heat, using a small amount of liquid is a good idea.  Liquid does not evaporate when using a slow cooker, so use it sparingly or you run the risk of a bland, watered down meal.

Newer.  Smaller.  Faster.  Hotter!
Fresh herbs, dairy and fish don’t like the slow cooker.  They need to be added just before serving, about 15 minutes.  Fresh herbs dissipate into nothingness and their flavor components are lost during the long cooking time.  Fish easily overcooks and becomes nasty, dry and rubbery.  Dairy breaks down, separates, and curdles over the long processing time.  If these ingredients are going into your pot, add them at the end and cook just long enough to bring up to temperature, and cook through in the case of seafood.

Frozen food takes longer.  DUH!  If cooking on high, add about 2-3 hours, if cooking on low, add about 4-6 hours.  This can be used to your advantage if you are going to be gone for an extended length of time or have a busy schedule.  This is also an advantage in that you can do the prep for meals weeks in advance, freeze, and then pop out a ready to go meal on a busy morning.  Work smarter, not harder!

Vegetable layer for Fall Harvest Pork Loin
Prep and layer your ingredients according to their cook time.  Root vegetables and winter squash take longer to cook and should be in the bottom of the pot.  Whole sweet potatoes take longer to cook than pieces of sweet potato; whole chicken takes longer than bite size pieces of chicken breast.  Get the idea?  Good!

Use the refrigerator to slow the cooking time.  If you are leaving for work in the morning, but won’t be home for another 9 hours, you can slow down the cooking time by prepping your pot the night before and stowing it in the fridge till you start the cooking as you walk out the door.  With my vessels, this slows High cooking about 1-2 hours and Low cooking 2-3 hours.

Now, are you ready to get cooking?

Slow Cooker Pork Loin

Salsa Verde Pork Loin
Whole Pork Loin
Vegetables, optional
Seasonings of choice
Liquid, maybe

If using vegetables, prepare as desired and place in bottom of the crock.  Season lightly if desired.  Brown in a skillet if desired.  Place whole pork loin in crock and season as desired.  Cook on low 4-8 hours, high 3-6 hours.  Pork is done at 145 degrees.

Let’s answer some questions...

How big of a pork loin?
That depends on the size of your slow cooker.  You want it to fit without having to be forced in, but without a lot of empty space.  If your pork loin is too large for your crock, slice off a couple of pork chops and use them for another meal.  If the loin is too small, add more vegetables to fill in the space.  The pork loin to the left was too large and had to be squished into the pot, not ideal.

What kind of vegetables?
Onion, garlic, jalapeno for Salsa Verde Pork Loin
Anything you like.  Keep in mind that they will be cooking over a long period of time, so some turn to mush while others keep their texture nicely.  Root vegetables (onions, tubers) and winter squash do well and keep their shape and texture.  Fruit will break down and melt into the sauce that is created during cooking.  Summer squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. turn to mush.  You don’t need to add vegetables to your pot if you would prefer not.

Any seasonings?
Salt and pepper is always a good place to start, but you can use anything you like.  Don’t limit yourself to dried spices.  Salsa, chutney, apple sauce and other liquid-type flavorings are great and easy!  Below are three different examples of recent pork loins that came out of the Domesticity Nouveau kitchen to get your creative juices flowing.

Do I have to brown the meat?
Browning is totally optional.  It does add another depth to the layers of flavor, but it isn’t necessary.  If you choose to do it, do not refrigerate or freeze for another time.  Browned meat needs to go directly to the slow cooker.  To brown your pork loin, heat a heavy skillet to medium-high.  Place loin in the skillet and brown 2-3 minutes per side and on the ends.  I prefer my cast iron skillet that is well seasoned, holds the heat and doesn’t require any additional oil to keep the meat from sticking.  If you are using another type of skillet, you might need to add a wee bit of oil to prevent sticking and the cold meat will likely cool the pan temperature, requiring a little longer browning time.  Meat will release easily from a pan when it has browned perfectly.  If it is sticking, you likely need to let it cook a little longer.

What do you mean “Liquid, maybe”?
If you are using something like salsa or apple sauce, you have will have plenty of liquid to keep things perfectly moist.  If you are just throwing in onions, you’ll need to add a few tablespoons.  The smaller your slow cooker, the less you will need.  Start with 1 Tbsp per quart size your cooker is, for example, if you have a 4 quart slow cooker, use 4 Tbsp (1/4 cup).  Any liquid will work:  water, orange juice, broth, etc.

High?  Low?  3-8 hours?  Can you be more specific?
Um.... not really.  This is where you need to know your beast’s temperament and calculate that with your desired meal time.  I have two slow cookers, one is old and large, the other is modern and small and they behave differently.  Yours will, too.  Different size pork loins are going to take different cooking times, too.  This vagueness is frustrating in the beginning, but after a few meals in your slow cooker, you’ll know if your pot runs hot & fast or low & slow.  As you are getting to know each other, check at the earliest finish time and move forward from there.

Can you recommend any flavor combinations?
Sure!  But don't forget the beauty of plain, it allows for changing up the flavors of leftovers with different sauces.  Here are three I recently made:

Salsa Verde Pork Loin
2 cups of tomatillo sauce I had in the freezer, one sliced onion, garlic and diced jalapeno.  I layered the vegetables on the bottom, browned the meat, then poured tomatillo sauce over the pork loin.  Cooked on low for 7 hours and served with stuffed jalapenos.

Bavarian Pork Loin
Penzeys Bavarian Seasoning, salt, pepper, sliced onion and 1/4 cup apple sauce left over from a visiting niece.  I rubbed the outside of the pork loin with Bavarian Seasoning, salt, & pepper, then placed on a bed of onions and apple sauce in the bottom of the crock.  Cooked on low 9 hours in my older Crock-pot.  There was a lot of broth created, so I poured that off and boiled it down by half to make a sauce and served with homemade sauerkraut.

Fall Harvest Pork Loin
1 small acorn squash, 1 pear, sliced shallots, pecans, a dusting of pumpkin pie spice, salt, pepper, and a dribble of water.  Peeled and chunked up an acorn squash and placed on the bottom.  Cored and sliced a pear and added to the crock along with the sliced shallots, dusting all with a bit of pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper.  Nestled the pork loin in the vegetables and sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Stuck in the fridge overnight, then cooked on low for 9 hours.  I wish I would have put in a dribble of maple syrup!

Up next....  Stuffed Jalapenos!   


  1. That 1st pic looks 3-D!! Excellent post!

    And I made your stuffed jalapenos today...delicious!

  2. Amazingly, I have both acorn squash AND pears in my house this week, courtesy of my CSA. Thanks!

  3. I did stuffed (bacon, cheese, dry cherries, spinach and almonds) pork lion on green apples bed. Everybody love it!!! Thanks for the time guide.

  4. Loved your blog very informative