Over the past few months, I’ve become slightly obsessed with slow cooking. It’s really invigorated my interest in doing things in the kitchen and has made me so much more adventurous with the things that I’ll attempt to make. It also saves time AND money; a slow cooker is cheaper to run even over the course of 6 hours than a conventional oven is to run for one hour, and often the cheaper cuts of meat are the ones which lend themselves best to ‘low and slow’.
With all this in mind, I thought I’d give you a few of the do’s and don’t’s that I’ve picked up over the last few months of reading and researching slow cooking recipes and methods so that you can, as they say, learn from my fails!
Slow Cooking Do’s and Don’t’s:
Do: read the manual! Slow cookers often vary from brand to brand and things that you can do with one slow cooker may not apply to another – for instance, some pots will crack if no liquid is added while others will be fine.
Don’t: put it in the fridge. The ceramic part of your pot can crack if put into a cold fridge and a cracked slow cooker is the saddest thing of all!
Don’t: cook meat from frozen. I know there are a LOT of people who say that it’s fine to slow cook from frozen but I’ve also seen lots of compelling evidence which says that, on a scientific level, the slow cooker just doesn’t heat the meat quickly enough and allows bacteria to grow. People will tell you that it’s fine to do it, but for me it’s not worth the risk.
Don’t: Add milk or cream to a recipe until about half an hour before you want to serve. I’ve seen SO many pictures of potentially lovely meals which have been ruined by split or curdled dairy products.
Don’t: Be afraid of cornflour. People have had disasters when adding it as a powder but mix it into a paste before you add it to the pot and it will really help to thicken meals which have ended up too watery.
Do: Think about fat. Lots of people (me included) adopt a ‘chuck it all in’ attitude and hardly ever brown things off, but this can often leave you with a layer of fat on top of the finished meal. Browning things first allows you to drain fat before you add it to the slow cooker if you don’t want your food to be too fatty.
Don’t: Be afraid to try things! Some of the best things I’ve cooked in my slow cooker have some from chucking things in and giving them a go.
Do: Allow your pot to cool before you wash it. Adding water to a ceramic pot which is cooler than its own temperature can also cause cracks.
Don’t: Use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers. Things which have been cooked and then cooled need to be reheated thoroughly, quickly and evenly, and a slow cooker just doesn’t get things up to temperature quick enough.
Do: Make sure you check that the electrical cable isn’t underneath the pot while you cook as this can be a fire hazard.
Don’t: Add too much liquid. Slow cookers aren’t the same as cooking on a hob and all of the moisture that you add at the beginning will effectively stay in the pot because of the lid. Also, most foods tend to contain liquid which will cook out and add to the overall moisture of the dish.
Don’t: Overfill your pot. I once spend 8 hours waiting for a lamb stew to be ready, only to find the meat half cooked and the root veg hard because I’d put too much in for the heat to be able to distribute through the cooker.
Do: Think about layers. Things like potatoes, swede and carrot are dense and will take longer to cook than meat, so add them to the bottom of the pot as they’ll be closer to the heat and will cook for longer.
Do: Try not to lift the lid too often! The inside of your slow cooker is a little hot-house for your dinner and every time you lift the lid, you let some of that heat out!
Do you have any other amazing slow cooking tips? I’d love to hear them.
(Big thanks to my fellow Fun Slow Cooker Saddos for their input!)