Hints and Tips for Successful Slow Cooking
In my kitchen the slow cooker is used because slow cooking is the best method for making particular dishes and cooking certain cuts of meat and it is an extremely convenient “set and forget” appliance allowing me to get on with other things. I can make delicious meals like my Cranberry Glazed Lamb Shanks or Slow Cooker Roast Chicken with Char Sui Glaze with very little time spent in the kitchen. If you’d like to do the same read on for my suggestions for successful slow cooking.
I don’t slow cook because I can just throw everything in, cook it for as long as possible, cross my fingers and hope for the best. I’m slow cooking for a purpose: for delicious, flavourful food.
I’ve been hosting my Facebook Group “Slow Cooker & Other Recipes 4 Friends” since May 2014, and not surprisingly there is a big focus on slow cooker recipes. I find that many of the complaints and problems home cooks experience with slow cookers and slow cookers meals can be eliminated by following a few basic guidelines. To get the most out of your slow cooker and produce tasty, tender meals dust off your slow cooker and follow my tips for successful slow cooking!
STOP LIFTING THE LID
- Lifting the lid reduces the already very low cooking temperature and ultimately results in more cooking time required. Lifting the lid and giving a stir once or twice during your cook probably won’t make a lot of difference but I have found that many people who think that their slow cooker does not “work properly”, or find meals do not cook within recommend slow cooking times are frequent lid lifters, constantly checking/stirring/turning their meal.
- Once cooking has commenced, slow cooking does not require the same attention as other cooking methods. Only turn or stir your meal if your recipe calls for it as these steps will have been incorporated into the recommended cooking time.
CAPACITY – KEEP YOUR SLOW COOKER FILLED
- Your pot/insert should be kept 1/2 to 2/3 full. Under-filling results in your dish drying out and not tenderising during the cooking process.
- Under-filled pots can also result in dishes burning around the edges and overcooking.
- Equally, overfilling the slow cooker will mean your meals take longer to cook and tough cuts may not tenderise as expected.
BROWNING/SEARING ENHANCES NATURAL FLAVOUR
- Have you ever felt that slow cooked meals taste and look the same? Do people complain that dishes are bland? Whilst some meals are perfectly fine without browning or searing, others can really benefit from the little extra attention.
- I recommend browning and searing meat, softening onions and cooking out spices as this helps to build flavour and add texture into your dish.
- Browning seals in natural meat juices (flavour) and it is these juices that tenderise the meat as it is cooked at low temperature over a long period of time. The cuts of meat that benefit the most from slow cooking are generally tougher, cheaper cuts that need all the added flavour and tenderness that they can get.
- You may find un-browned meat “falls of the bone” and appears tender immediately after cooking due to having the tough sinew broken down during cooking, or having been immersed in liquid, but it may not retain this soft texture after cooling and will become dry.
- Softening onions removes the heat and “oniony” taste and also helps build flavour into your dish.
- Cooking out dried spices releases their aroma and adds depth of flavour.
RESPECT THE MEAT
- Not all cuts of meat are suited to slow cooking. Lean meats and chicken breast may be cooked in the slow cooker but are not recommended. They certainly will not stand up to 6-8 hours of cooking in most cases. Use them with caution and keep a close eye during cooking as it’s not far between beautiful juicy meat and dry and tough bites with these cuts.
- Replace chicken breast with thigh fillets in recipes will make a world of difference to tenderness in the slow cooker. Lean, expensive cuts of meat really deserve special attention, grilling, flash frying etc.
COOKING FROZEN FOODS
- Cooking from frozen is not a good idea in the slow cooker for a number reasons:
- You can crack the pot. Due to the low cooking temperature frozen foods will not defrost quickly, in all likelihood your pot will become hot before the food has thawed. Hot pot, cold food CRACK POT.
- Slow cookers are designed to operate at very low cooking temperatures. Food Safety and Handling Regulations ensure that slow cookers in Australia heat and cook foods within acceptable and safe temperature ranges.
- Cooking foods from frozen in a slow cooker is an unsafe and risky food handling method. Due to the low cooking temperature of the Slow Cooker, frozen foods thaw at unsafe temperatures over an extended period of time – not really worth the risk of your health in my opinion.
- Defrost frozen foods overnight in the refrigerator OR use that under utilised microwave that has been reheating your dinners and not much else all these years.