There are many benefits to using a slow cooker. It saves time, money, and creates a flavor you simply can’t get out of a bottle.
Here are some secrets to getting the best results from a slow cooker. While the process is pretty easy (put everything in the pot, and turn it on), like any cooking appliance, you can get really amazing food if you understand how it works and what kind of food is best suited for it. Read on, and be a master at slow cooking!
How to choose a slow cooker
Ideally your slow cooker should trap the heat. So before you buy it, check if it has a good seal. Not only will this help cook your food in less time, it prevents the water or liquid from boiling away completely as it simmers over several hours. You’ll know if your slow cooker traps heat if you notice that the water doesn’t evaporate. You should only be able to reduce the sauce if you take off the lid.
Adapting recipes to a slow cooker
There are plenty of slow cooker recipes, but if you’d like to adapt one of your favorites to this appliance, just make a few changes. First of all, lower the amount of cooking liquid. If you have a good slow cooker, the broth won’t evaporate, so you’ll notice your dishes will be more ‘watery’ than usual. And since slow cookers generate less heat, relying on trapped heat to help cook the food, you have to avoid lifting the lid. So if your recipes call for adding ingredients during the cooking process, adjust your cooking time to compensate for the lost heat.
The best portions for slow cooker
The slow cooker should be filled to at least half of its capacity. You can go beyond that, but do allot some space to let the broth (especially soups) simmer. Given this, pick the right size of slow cooker for your family. If it’s too big you’ll be eating leftovers for days!
IF you are cooking meat in a slow-cooker, make sure that it is completely submerged in boiling liquid (preheat the broth or water before adding to the slow cooker). Never leave raw meat in cold water, which could lead to food poisoning.
The best food to cook in a slow cooker
Only food that has liquid can be cooked in a slow cooker. This includes soup, stew, casseroles, curries, roast, and even dessert! You should never sauté in a slow cooker, so if the recipe calls for that, pre-saute the ingredients on a stove.
The slow cooker is best for meat dishes. You can add vegetables, but do bear in mind that slow cooking will destroy the nutrient content. Add vegetables mainly for flavor. If you wish to preserve the nutrients of the vegetables, cook separately—blanch, steam or quickly stir fry them—and then add to the dish when it is cooked.
The only exception is beans and root vegetables, which take a long time to cook. However, beans and lentils must be soaked overnight and then boiled rapidly for 10 minutes beforehand to release chemicals which can be toxic if ‘trapped’ in the food. Root vegetables must be chopped into small pieces; many cooks prefer sautéing them for about 3 minutes before slow cooking.
Milk and cream should be added in the last 10 minutes of slow cooking. Ideally, use full fat milk, which has less tendency to separate.
Photo from numkitchen.com