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Cooking with Slow Cookers

 

Jump to:-    Why Use a Slow Cooker ? General Cooking Tips  | Adapting Recipes  | 

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Why Use a Slow Cooker ?
 

Slow cookers allow you to cook meals that retain the goodness and flavours of your food. They are particularly good for cheaper cuts of meat as the long slow cooking breaks down the collagen in the connective tissue ensuring very tender melt in the mouth results and as they are low on energy consumption this saves even more money.

 

Although there are some more expensive models on the market, many are relatively cheap to buy - no more than the cost of  a large saucepan. Furthermore, your kitchen stays cooler and cleaner because the food is cooked in a covered container which retains all the steam in the pot and as the liquid never boils, there are  no splashes or  boiled over foods messing up your work surfaces or walls.

 

With a little forethought, they can make life much easier and convenient as the ingredients can be prepared and placed in the cooker at a time of your choosing - either the night before and refrigerated or freshly prepared in the morning.  If you choose a recipe which contains meat and vegetables together in the slow cooker,  all that's needed is the flick of a switch and you'll have a complete meal ready in 6-10 hours without the need to do anything else. Also, if you have a model with a removable crock, this can double up as a serving dish saving on washing up.

 

Finally, many recipes cooked in a slow cooker are highly suitable for freezing, so you can make more than is needed for one meal and freeze the rest for future use.


General  Slow Cooker Cooking Guidelines

 

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Always fill the the slow cooker to a minimum of one half as any less less may result in the foods cooking too quickly or drying out.

Do not fill the slow cooker more than two thirds full as the foods may not cook properly if filled to the brim.

Always use a liquid such as water, wine or stock in addition to other ingredients.  NEVER use oil or fats as the cooking liquid.

Cheaper cuts of meats are best suited to slow cooking and save you money.

It is not necessary to brown meats and vegetables before adding to the slow cooker although browning can add extra flavour and colour to the finished dish.
Trim excess fat from meats as fat melts with long cooking times sometimes adding an unpleasant texture to the finished dish.

As vegetables don't cook as quickly as meat, they should be cut into slightly larger pieces than for conventional cooking to avoid them disintegrating during the long cooking process.

It is best not to lift the lid at all before the last hour of cooking period as this allows precious heat to escape which could result in the food not cooking through properly.  If you want to  check progress towards the end of the cooking time without lifting the lid, just spin the cover until the condensation falls off to give you a clear view of the contents.
If you want to thicken up the cooking juices you can remove the lid and turn the setting to high for the last half hour of cooking time.
Seafood should be added during the last hour of cooking time, or it will overcook and have a rubbery texture.
Add tender vegetables such as mushrooms or courgettes during the last hour of the cooking time so they don't overcook.
Dairy products should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, unless the recipes states otherwise.

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Adapting Recipes for the Slow Cookers

 

The most important adjustments to make is the amount of liquid used  so in general, you can follow your recipe up to the point where the liquid is added, e.g. brown meats and vegetables like onions if you want to.

 

As liquids do not boil away, when  adapting a recipe, reduce the liquid by  1/3 to except when making soups. The longer the cooking time, the more liquid is required. Most meats require 8-10  hours cooking on low.

 

If your recipe suggests you add softer vegetables at a later stage during cooking,  you can do the same when cooking in a slow cooker however try to only do this once,  preferably 1 hour before the end of the cooking time.

 

When using dried beans, make sure you soak them overnight first and in the case of kidney beans, you should also boil them rapidly in a saucepan of water for about 10 minutes to ensure the toxins in the skins are released. Drain beans well before adding to other ingredients in the slow cooker.

 

 

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