Part I: Slow Cookers and Crock Pots
If you’re looking for a business forecast for the 2022 restaurant industry, the recipe to success may lie in one-pot cooking. As restaurateurs and caterers struggle to get back on their feet in the aftermath of COVID-19, many are turning to the food and beverages that became best-sellers during the corona crisis and which have remained popular among consumers ever since.
Front-and-center on restaurant menus for the New Year, expect to see wholesome one-pot dishes where all the ingredients cook together in a single pot, skillet, or cooker. These one-dish meals tend to contain all the elements of a healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner – and then some. Combine your choice of protein, starch, vegetables, sauces, syrups, salt and pepper, then add herbs and spices, for a dish that takes the taste buds over the top. While these recipes were once geared primarily for family dining, single-serving one-pot creations for individual diners are now also rising in the rankings.
The bottom line for foodservice owners? If you want to see your bottom-line bounce back up in the coming season, don your chef’s hats and begin to create memorable all-in-one meals and desserts that stand out from the crowd and entice consumers right to your front door.
Benefits of One-Pot Meals
Besides the convenience of simply tossing a whole bunch of ingredients together to form one nutritious and delicious concoction, here are some of the other benefits of one-pot cooking:
- Economical, uses ingredients commonly found in most kitchens or pantries
- Easy to prepare (reduced time, labor, and labor force)
- Can often be made in advance and/or frozen for the future
- Recipes can be easily adjustable for different size groups/individuals
- Fits the bill for a wide range of dining occasions: a weeknight meal, a casual get-together, a formal dinner party, a black-tie affair
- Cleanup is a breeze!
All About Slow Cookers
Also known as “hands-off cooking,” slow cookers are all-in-one appliances that use gentle heat to cook food… slowly. Made from a metal or ceramic pot, they sit on top of a heated surface and feature a metal, ceramic, or glass lid specially designed to create a low-pressure seal that prevents moisture (evaporation) from escaping from the pot. This retention of liquid makes slow cookers perfect for preparing soups, sauces, stews, casseroles, and other all-in-one dishes. Higher temperature settings cook the food faster, however one of the unique benefits of low-heat slow cooking is that it allows the flavors to develop and the ingredients to tenderize.
Slow Cooker History
The first slow cooker is said to hail from a 19th century Jewish neighborhood in Vilnius, Lithuania, where inventor Irving Nachumsohn (who later changed his name to Naxon) was motivated by a desire to enhance the preparation of cholent, a traditional stew eaten by Eastern European Jews on the Sabbath. Forbidden to cook on their day of rest, cholent was prepared by bringing one’s pot, filled with ingredients, to a nearby bakery on Friday afternoon, where the residual heat of the still-hot ovens would slowly cook the stew overnight. Families would come collect their pots the next morning, fully cooked, to be served hot at the midday meal. This slow cooking method evolved into what later would become the Naxon, when the inventor received a patent for this revolutionary appliance.
Historians also link the advent of the slow cooker to the rapid rise of other time-saving new technologies that allowed women to join the workforce more easily. Advertisements for Naxon’s slow cooker in the 1940’s, touted it as “perfect for working women” and their families. This was followed by the debut of, frozen dinners, Tupperware and microwaves in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s which sealed the glorious future of this novel piece of cookware.
Introducing the Crock Pot
The Naxon, designed to promote even cooking, was a squat crock with a fitted lid and heating element built around its inner chamber. In 1970, the business was sold to Rival Manufacturing of Kansas City, and in 1971, the rebranded Naxon Beanery debuted at Chicago’s National Housewares Show as the Crock Pot. Sold with a promotional booklet of professionally tested home-cooked, nutritious recipes, consumer sales of the Crock Pot rocketed from $2 million in 1971, to a whopping $93 million only four years later!
Modern-Day Slow Cookers
Fast-forward to the present and it is safe to say that the Crock Pot has solidified its place in the culture of American food. If you work in foodservice, don’t miss the opportunity to add this convenient piece of cookware to your inventory of culinary cooking tools.
According to economists, consumer appeal for the crock pot currently supersedes that of its market competitors and continues to drive sales in the 21st century. New on the horizon are slow cookers with advanced features such as programmable timers that turn the device on & off automatically when you’re not at home (hence the term ‘hands-off cooking’), additional temperature settings, and even built-in Wi-Fi for remote operational control from a personal device.
More Slow Cooking Advantages
Finally – and this is great news for restaurants, independent ghost kitchen operators, and any foodservice manager trying to cut costs, slow cookers are great energy savers. Despite being left on for hours, they switch on and off to maintain optimal heat levels, use less energy than a standard electric oven, and are by far cheaper to buy. Often used to prepare bulk meals, you also save on prep time and ingredient expenses incurred in the preparation of separate meals.
The following are numerous ways you can use your slow cooker to introduce fabulous, winning menu ideas to your restaurant’s repertoire of culinary delights.
All-in-One Rice Dishes
Prepared on the stovetop, in the oven, or by using a rice cooker, rice-based recipes comprise some of consumers’ all-time favorites. Use any type of rice (white, brown, basmati) and add some flavor and spice with quick-cooking fresh vegetables, tomatoes, mushrooms, and / or soy sauce, bouillon cubes, and more. Stir in your choice of protein or tofu, top with optional grated cheese, breadcrumbs, roasted sliced almonds, and/or sesame seeds, and voila! A mouth-watering item to feature on your 2022 restaurant menu.
One-Pot Potato Dishes
Economical, nutritious, and a staple food worldwide, it’s no wonder that potato-based recipes proliferate. With a little creativity, your chefs can slice, dice, mash, cook, steam, bake, or whip potatoes into any shape or taste desired. Feel free experimenting: mix potato-based dishes with thin slices of carrots or onions, together with larger chunks of cauliflower, zucchini, or broccoli, with chicken, tuna, or tofu, and then add spices such as garlic powder, rosemary, and thyme. Top with various sauces, grated cheese, or slivers of butter. Add a sprinkle of parsley, and there you have an irresistible all-in-one family friendly meal to attract the hungry masses. Finally, post images of your new creations on Instagram to create a sensation and a long line outside your restaurant.
One-Pot Pasta Meals
Did you know that there are supposedly over 350 different types of pasta around the world, in over 600 pasta shapes? Grouped by categories such as short, long, sheet, stuffed, and dumpling pasta, consumers’ global love affair with pasta-based dishes is second to none. Fortunately for professional chefs and restaurant owners, this makes recipes for all-in-one pasta dishes a winning formula for business success. So, whether your customers’ favorite pasta is penne, spaghetti, linguine, ravioli, lasagna, fussili, or rigatoni, bring your selected noodles to a boil, don your creative chef’s hat, and create an original pasta dish that leaves customers clamoring for more.
One-Pot Recipe Ideas
There is no end to the one-pot culinary delights your chefs can conjure up. Some recommended slow cook dishes include Crock-Pot Sweet Potato Casserole, Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken, Slow Cooker Macaroni & Cheese, and the following consumer-favorite recipe for Vegetarian Chili.
Recipe: Slow-Cook Vegetarian Chili
With just 10 minutes of prep and two hours of slow cooking, this best-selling restaurant dish yields a high profit and lots of happy customers. Enjoy!
- 1 can black bean soup (19 ounce)
- 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (15 ounces)
- 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (15 ounces)
- 1 can vegetarian baked beans (15 ounces)
- 1 can chopped tomatoes in puree (15 ounces)
- 1 can whole kernel corn, drained (15 ounces)
- 1 chopped green bell pepper
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tbsp. basil
- 1 tbsp. oregano
- 1 tbsp. dried parsley
- 1 tbsp. chili powder, or to taste
- In a slow cooker or crock pot, combine all canned ingredients, bell pepper, onion, and celery.
- Add seasonings and cook for at least two hours on the High setting.
More One-Pot Cooking Recommendations
If you are thirsting for more slow cooker cooking or baking ideas, you can quench your cravings by reading Part II of our series, One-Pot Slow Cooker Dishes and Desserts for Your Restaurant Menu.