Photo: Kevin Pang, Illustration: Emma McKhann

Welcome to Slow Cooker Week, in which The Takeout uses its favorite cold-weather kitchen appliance in the dead of summer.

At The Takeout, we don’t view “garbage” as pejorative. To us it’s analogous to lo-fi homeyness, the ability to dump ingredients into a single pot, turn on the power source, and allow heat to perform its sorcery.

Ever since I discovered the culinary car crash that is the Mississippi Pot Roast, I’ve been inspired to make garbage. I’d channel my inner-Paula Deen (minus the ethnic slurs), daydreaming of wild, fantastical combinations to throw together in my slow-cooker. Then one day, rather than just thinking about it, I actually set out to do it: to create the next Mississippi Pot Roast.

A few weeks ago I visited my local supermarket and went nuts, buying packets of soup mixes, condiments, ready-made sauces. I bought ketchup, soy sauces, steak seasonings, ramen—anything that was flavor-dense and full of MSG. I bought five pounds of beef chuck roast and portioned it up to nightly servings. I warned my wife: “We’ll be experimenting with dinner all week; some are going to work, some won’t. We might want to have back-up meals ready.”

Once back at home, I inventoried all my ingredients onto a spreadsheet. Then it was a matter of piecing it together in compelling combinations. Part of me felt like I was casting a boy band. I tried to be mindful about balance—protein, liquid fat, salt, acid. Here were some of the ideas I jotted down:

Butter + A-1 sauce + green chiles + sour cream + seasoning salt

Gochujang + butter + soy sauce + sesame oil

Taco seasoning + liquid smoke + butter + jalapenos

Montreal seasoning + Alfredo mix + butter

What I found in cooking these combinations was the final product all tasted roughly the same. Once served alongside rice or noodles, any subtlety of flavor disappeared into the background of “seasoned beef cooked in its own juices.” Look, I’m not winning any cookbook awards here, but it was still pretty dang satisfying.

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There was one combination, however, that stood out. It had spice, savoriness, a tinge of exotic flavoring, and it was rich and unctuous. The idea was inspired by my love of Vietnamese pho (pronounced fuh? with an upward intonation), with a beef broth that hinted of cloves and nutmeg. From there, I built on the idea that onion soup would pair nicely, jarred pickled jalapenos would provide the requisite kick, and butter just makes everything tastier, right?

So here it is, my humble attempt at garbage. I like it quite a bit.


Photo: Kevin Pang

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Pho King Beef

  • 2 lbs. beef chuck roast, whole
  • 2 pho noodle soup packets (minus the noodles)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. jarred pickled jalapeno
  • 2 Tbsp. French onion soup mix

Add everything into a slow cooker and turn on to the low setting, and cook for at least five hours. When it’s done, you can shred the beef and serve it with the leftover dried noodles, or with rice and steamed vegetables.

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Got any unexpected and unexpectedly delicious slow cooker combinations? Let us know in the comments section below.