This is the time of year when we crave slow foods; comforting dishes filled with tender protein and flavorful sauces. It’s time to bust out the slow cooker and make some magic.
Last year at this time, we were novices, fearing that the food would be dried out and overcooked, or raw. Now that we have made friends with our slow cooker, we have a few tips to share to ensure the tastiest and safest outcome.
1.Don’t put raw meat or chicken into the slow cooker. For added flavor and texture, brown the meat on the stovetop before putting it into the cooker.
2.Don’t add too much liquid. Unlike other methods where high cooking temperatures cause the liquids to evaporate, slow cookers don’t allow the sauce to reduce. If you are using wine, deglaze the pan after sautéing the meat to allow some of the alcohol to burn off; don’t just pour it into the slow cooker, or you might get a harsh flavor.
3.Start heating the cooker while you are preparing the ingredients. This allows the food to come to a safe temperature more quickly.
4.Slow cookers work by trapping the heat inside the pot over a long period of time. Lifting the lid, however tempting it may be, lets the steam and heat escape, reducing the temperature. To make sure the food is cooked at the specified time, resist the temptation to peek inside.
5.Dairy products ( milk, cream etc. ) are likely to curdle if placed in the slow cooker. If your recipe calls for dairy, add it at the end of the cooking cycle. Coconut milk is non-diary and won’t curdle during prolonged cooking, so it’s safe to put it in right away.
6.Don’t leave raw food sitting in the cooker set on a timer to turn on after you leave the house. The food can start to spoil before the cooker starts. Place the food into the slow cooker when you are ready to begin the cooking process. Chickpeas and other beans can be used as a vegetarian protein, and don’t need to be sautéed first. If using canned beans, add them towards the end of the cook time so they don’t get mushy.
7. Fattier meats often withstand the slow cooker better than leaner ones. Think chicken thighs on the bone, vs. boneless, skinless breasts for a more tender and juicy outcome. Fish and seafood are more delicate, and not good choices.
8. Smaller pieces of protein will cook faster than a large piece of meat, so if time is of the essence, or you need to leave the house for a long period, gauge what is best based on how much time you have available to cook.
9. Be creative! Many recipes which require cooking in the oven or on the stovetop in a sauce can be interpreted for the slow cooker. It may take longer, but you can leave it unattended safely, and get the mess out the way early!
photos: Glasshouse Images
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