The slow cooker, the Crock-pot™, the easy peasy dinner solution! Call it what you will, this one-pot kitchen tool is the answer to your dinner-time dilemmas! If you’re pressed for time or up to your eyeballs with work and trying to juggle parenthood with work and the minutae of daily life, you’ll want to read on!
Most stews and saucy meat dishes can be adapted to use in a slow cooker which will allow you to cook the dish at a low temperature over a couple of hours. Imagine that: food can be set to slow-cook before leaving for the day or while you work at home, and will be ready on return or whenever your family is ready for dinner. The great thing about slow cookers is that you don’t have to slave over a hot stove and you never have to stir the dish as it cooks. Finally, even if you’re using a cheaper cut of meat which has lots of connective tissue, it will break down and become completely tender.
I’m going off on a slow cooker tangent here so let me reel it in and focus on this delicious dish! So without boring you with the full history of this dish, according to food lore, this dish was created by Napolean’s chef who was forced to forage for food and improvise with ingredients such as meat, crayfish, eggs, oranges, tomatoes, and garlic to create a dish to feed the troops following Napolean’s defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo. Napoleon later associated this dish with his army’s good luck and insisted on being served this dish following each battle.
I’m sure the Emporer is turning over in his grave as I write this, but I can safely say that we’ve successfully bastardized his original recipe to omit the crayfish and cooked egg and added pearl tomatoes, onions and even red kidney beans! However, I have stuck to tradition by keeping the orange peel. Over the years, this recipe has been modified to no end with the addition of ingredients such a kalamata olives, mushrooms and more. When I first tried this recipe, I followed Julia Child’s recipe almost to a tee and then, in true form, I made all sorts of little changes to make the recipe my own, with all due respect to Julia.
This recipe is beyond easy, with non-threatening ingredients and very little prep time. You can even do the prep the night before and place it in the fridge. The next morning, before heading off to work or to drop the kids off at school, simply place everything in the pot and turn it on. The end result of this will find you face to pot with a delicious flavourful dish that is studded with tender pieces of veal, mushrooms, pearl onions in a delicious flavourful broth. You can serve it topped over rice or broad egg noodles (my preference) or it can be eaten just as a stew.
The great thing about slow cookers is that they’re inexpensive and last virtually forever! I have two pots (one large oval one and one small round one) and neither of them costed more than $50. When you think about all the time you’ll save preparing dishes in a one-pot cooker, it’s worth its weight in gold.
Seasoning the meat cubes with flour accomplishes two things. First, the flour which coats the veal then cooks off in hot oil will caramelize the exterior of the meat giving it a delicious depth of flavour as it slow cooks. Secondly, the flour will serve to thicken the sauce. Keep in mind that slow cookers cook at such a low temperature (and the lid is virtually airtight) so the moisture never boils out of the mixture allowing it to thicken. Adding flour to the meat will help thicken the broth. I’ve seasoned the flour with salt, pepper, fragrant paprika and even garlic powder to add more flavour to the mix.
When I first made this, I used 2 lbs of veal cubes and found that there was simply too much meat (my husband says it’s ‘impossible’ to have too much meat, but I humbly disagree!). I made it the second time with 1.5 lbs of meat and it was fine but still meaty. If you only happen to have 1 lb of boneless veal cubes hanging around your freezer, that should be more than enough meat for this dish!
Once the meat is seared off, simply add it to the slow cooker pot. If you can’t find the time to sear the meat, you can simply dredge it in flour and toss it into the pot. You can do the same with the onions, garlic and tomatoes, but you won’t get the same flavour profile that you get when the ingredients are seared or sweated down.
Sauteing the onions, garlic and tomatoes in the same pot which the meat was seared in will draw out all the delicious flavour and the little toasted bits which have adhered to the bottom of the skillet.
Newer slow cookers are equipped with all sorts of fancy temperature gauges and settings. My slow cooker is quite basic but works just as well! I set the slow cooker to ‘low’ since I knew I would out of the house all day and the dish cooked over a 6-hour period. If I were home, I might have set it to high (which I did at the very end for this dish) and cooked it only for 3 hours or so. Setting it to high still doesn’t require you to mix it or hover over the pot. High or Low, you can just set it and walk away!
The orange that is used in this dish is barely noticeable in the final dish, however, I feel that keeping true to Napolean’s chef’s recipe, I ought to add it to the mix! You can either use a small piece of rind or use about a half teaspoon of orange zest.
I don’t know if it’s possible to make this dish even easier but, here’s another tip to minimize your work. Whenever you’re slicing or dicing veggies or meat, keep a ‘garbage’ bowl on your counter to toss in all the excess waste. When you’re done your prep, simply empty the bowl of scraps in the garbage and you only have one extra bowl to wash (and the sink won’t be clogged with veggie scraps!)
Is there anything cuter than these little button mushrooms?! I used small white button mushrooms and cut them in quarters (or in half for the itty bitty ones!)
Slow Cooker Veal Marengo
1.5 lbs boneless veal, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
5 tablespoons (75 ml) canola oil
2 cups (1 large) onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cup (1 large) tomato, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups beef or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon orange zest (or use a piece of the orange peel which is 2 inches tall and 1/2 inch wide)
15 pearl onions, peeled
10-12 white button mushrooms, quartered or cut in half
1 cup canned red kidney beans
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon parsley, chopped (reserve some for garnish)
Cut the veal in 1 1/2 inch cubes. Wash the pieces and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the flour in a shallow dish and add to it the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Mix together and add to it the veal cubes and toss to coat. In a large skillet, add the 5 tablespoons of oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pieces of veal and cook the pieces for about 2-3 minutes on each side until the meat is browned and caramelized. Transfer the pieces to the slow cooker.
In the same skillet, add the chopped onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onions are translucent and slightly caramelized. Add the tomato paste and mix to combine. Add the diced tomatoes, thyme and salt and continue to cook for about 3 minutes. (Add 1 additional tablespoon of oil if necessary.) Once the veggies have cooked down a bit, add 1 cup of broth to deglaze the pan. Bring to a boil then add transfer the mixture to the slow cooker over the meat.
Add 2 more cups of broth and the orange zest or peel to the slow cooker and cover the pot. Set the pot to ‘low’ and continue to cook for 5 hours (or ‘high’ and cook for 3 hours). Half an hour before the cooking time is done, set the temperature to ‘high’ and add the mushrooms, pearl onions, kidney beans, 1 teaspoon of salt and some of the parsley. When the slow cooker is done doing its work, turn of the cooker and carefully move the pot straight to the table (be careful as it will be hot!) or transfer the mixture to a large serving dish. Add freshly ground black pepper if desired. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Serve this dish with rice or broad egg noodles.
Troubleshooting: If your mixture has not thickened up very much nearing the end of the cooking process, try this tip: a half hour before the cooking process is complete, in a small pan, create a roux by adding 2 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt. Add 1/8 cup of all-purpose flour and allow the mixture to combine and become paste-like, but not brown. Remove 1 1/2 cups of liquid from the slow cooker (place the lid back on quickly afterwards) and add to the roux. Mix vigorously until the mixture is completely smooth and loose (add more liquid if desired) and return the smooth mixture back to the slow cooker. As the mixture cooks for another 30 minutes, the mixture will thicken up perfectly. Do not attempt to cook off the extra liquid in the pot by removing the lid – you’ll just drop the temperature down quickly and it will not work since the cooker will never bring any mixture to a boil!
Not sure what to do with the leftover tomato paste? Try this TIP!