To me, one of the greatest mysteries of modern life (after why people keep watching Big Brother year after year) is why more people don’t use slow cookers.
That’s right, slow cookers. Remember that daggy orange crockpot that your mum used in the 70s?
Slow cookers are the perfect cooking solution for busy people. You simple stick a bunch of ingredients in the pot and flick the switch before you leave for work in the morning. When you arrive home that night your house is filled with the fragrant smells of meaty casseroles, stews, curries and soups. It must be what rich people feel like when they arrive home and their chef has prepared them dinner. Or, come to think about it, people with stay-at-home spouses.
Being the meat-lover I am, I’ve never cooked any vegetarian dishes in the slow cooker. I love it mostly for its ability to transform a cheap piece of meat into an example of such tender succulence that the meat literally falls off the bone as you remove it from the pot.
While cheap cuts of meat are perfect for the slow cooker, beware that your meat isn’t too fatty. Trim the fat off your meat beforehand, because it’s not great to arrive home from work and peer into the top of the slow cooker to find your French cut lamb shanks swimming in a two inch slick of molten fat.
However if this does happen, you can always skim some of the fat off the top of the dish. Slow cookers cook without the need for you to stir or disturb the food, so any oil will be sitting right on the surface, like yesterday’s vinaigrette.
If you are at home while your slow cooker is doing its thing, resist the temptation to stir the food throughout the day. Lifting the lid on your slow cooker releases that long, low build up of heat, and it will take some time for your slow cooker to build the required temperature up again. So make sure you stir all your ingredients beforehand, when you first put them in the pot.
Also, go easy on the liquid in a slow cooker. Cooking on a stove top or in the oven allows for more evaporation of the liquid, so you are probably used to liquid reducing and thickening a little more than it will in the slow cooker. I often add a little cornflour to the stew about half an hour before serving to thicken it up a little. Another great way to thicken slow-cooked sauces is to include lots of finely chopped “mashable” veggies, like carrots, potato or pumpkin. These will break down as the dish cooks throughout the day and thicken the sauce without the risk of floury lumps.
I love the surprise of the crockpot. When you place all those ingredients in the pot in the morning, you never know exactly how it’s going to turn out when you get home, because you are not there while all the flavours are developing as it cooks. So you need to place all your seasonings, herbs and spices in at once – you can’t taste it as it is cooking and decide that it needs a little more basil or a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
A few slow cooker classics
- Osso bucco
- Lamb shanks
- Pie fillings
- Moroccan tagines
- Curries and stews
- Stewed fruits (put this on before you go to bed for a great breakfast)