How to Use a Slow Cooker

Many people have a slow cooker in their kitchen. They are cheap to buy and run, and they can make delicious food, even from budget ingredients. The benefits don’t end there as slow cookers also provide a healthier, low-fat method of cooking, and above all, they are easy to use, so even the most reluctant of cooks should have no issue using one.

If you don’t yet own a slow cooker, the good news is that they are not particularly expensive. You can pick up something that will do a reasonable job for under £20. Of course, you can spend much more, but it is not necessary. The best thing is to read reviews of some that fall in your budget.

Don’t worry if slow cookers are somewhat of a mystery to you, here we will take you through everything you need to know so that you can make the most from all that your slow cooker has to offer.

Reduce Preparation Time

One of the main reasons that many people use a slow cooker is how easy it is. When you look at recipes, you will find plenty that don’t require much preparation. There are numerous dishes, such as soups and stews, for which you essentially just need to throw all of the ingredients in the cooker. Some people may choose to cook the onions first, as this will provide a different flavour to when they are put in raw, but it is possible to do it both ways and ultimately it is a matter of preference. Similarly, some people will also choose to brown meat first, but it is not essential.

Do You Preparation the Night Before

If you know that you will be in a rush in the morning, then you can prepare everything for your slow-cooked meal the evening before, put the ingredients into the slow cooker, cover it and store it in the fridge overnight. Ideally, before you start cooking, everything should have time to return to room temperature, so try to take it out of the fridge and leave it for 20 minutes before you turn the cooker on. If the dish needs preheating, then put the ingredients in a separate container and transfer them in the morning.

Save Money with Cheap Cuts

As noted, slow cookers are truly economical and one of the reasons for this is that they are great for cooking cheaper cuts of meat such as beef brisket, pork shoulder, lamb shoulder, and chicken thighs. You will also find that you can use less meat and achieve a really meaty flavour that permeates the entire dish. You can use vegetables for bulk instead of additional meat.

Remove the Fat from Meat before Cooking

As mentioned, slow cookers are a very healthy way of preparing food. You do not need to add any oil as there is already enough oil in there. Furthermore, you don’t need a lot of fat on the meat either. Normally, when you fry meat the fat can drain away. However, this won’t happen in a slow cooker, so you should trim it off first. If you don’t you might have a very greasy or oily stew.

Reduce Quantity of Liquid

Slow cookers have tightly sealed lids, which means that the liquid doesn’t evaporate. Therefore, if you are adapting a standard recipe, it is best to reduce the amount of liquid you put in it by roughly a third. The liquid should just cover the meat and vegetables. Be careful not to overfill the slow cooker otherwise the liquid might start leaking out of the top and the food won’t cook very well. Ideally, it should be between half and two-thirds full and never more than three-quarters full.

Thicken Sauces with Flour

In the same way that the liquid doesn’t reduce, it also doesn’t thicken. Therefore, many will roll the meat in small amount of seasoned flour before placing it in the slow cooker or use a bit of cornflour at the end of the cooking process. If you opt for the cornflour method, then take a teaspoon or two of it and mix it into a paste with cold water. Then stir the paste into the slow cooker and replace the lid.

Use the Cooker’s ‘Low’ Setting

Many cooks recommend using the low setting on a slow cooker as much as possible as many dishes will really benefit from a very slow and gentle heat, and it produces the best flavours. It also means that you can start cooking in the morning and know that it will be ready just in time for supper.

Don’t Keep Checking the Lid

Slow cookers are designed to be left alone once they are started and there is no need to keep checking on the progress of whatever dish you are cooking. Each time you open the lid it releases some heat, and this means that you will eventually have to increase the cooking time.

Place All Ingredients in At the Start

The best slow cooker recipes are those that require you to put most, or ideally all, of the ingredients in at the start, as this leaves you free to do other things. However, usually ingredients such as pasta, rice and fresh herbs will need to be added towards the end of the cooking process.

Also, root vegetables take longer than meat and other vegetables to cook, so place them near the bottom of the pot, as close to the heat source as possible.

Understanding Cooking Times

If a recipe usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to cook, then you should cook it for 1 to 2 hours on high or 4 to 6 hours on low in a slow cooker. Similarly, if it usually takes 30 mins to 1 hour to cook, cook it for 2 to 3 hours on high or 5 to 7 hours on low. Something that usually takes 1 to 2 hours, cook it for 3 to 4 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low. Finally, a dish that you would usually cook for 2 to 4 hours can be cooked for 4 to 6 hours on high or 8 to 12 hours on low.