A slow cooker can be a huge timesaver in the kitchen. Here's how to get the most out of yours.
1. Prep ahead of time
One of the best things about a slow cooker is how much time it saves you – just throw everything in and forget it! But that’s no good if you’re rushing around in the morning trying to prep your meal. Instead, get everything ready the night before, put it in the cooker’s dish and store in the fridge overnight. Then, in the morning, just plug in and go.
2. Choose the right cut
Super slow cooking can make cheaper cuts of meat (like chuck roast, lamb shanks, pork shoulders and chicken thighs) become mouth-wateringly tender. There’s actually no point spending money on high quality, lean meat as it can tend to dry out.
3. Take the time to brown
You can certainly put all the ingredients straight in the cooker and leave them be, but there’s a way to make it even tastier. Take the extra time to brown your meat and vegetables in a pan for a few minutes before adding them to the slow cooker. This will give you a deeper, caramelised flavour that’s worth the extra time.
4. Slow is best
All slow cookers will have a range of temperature settings. If you have the time, always choose the lowest one. A slow, gentle heat will bring out the most flavour in your dishes and keep in all those tasty liquids. Good things take time, so don’t rush it.
5. Don’t overfill it
Cramming your slow cooker full to the brim will only result in undercooked or burnt dishes. You need to leave some room for things to get simmering – instructions will vary be brand, but two thirds full is generally a good rule of thumb.
6. Go easy on the wine
We mean in the cooker, not in your glass. Because the dish is sealed there’s very little evaporation, meaning the alcohol in the wine can't be burnt off. A little splash will be all you need.
7. Add dairy at the end
Things like cream, yoghurt and milk can curdle or split with too much cooking, so hold off until the very end before adding them in. The last 15 minutes of cooking time is usually enough, so stir them gently through the mostly-cooked meal.
8. Be careful with the dish
The ceramic insert of the slow cooker is surprisingly delicate so you should avoid exposing it to extremes of temperatures. Don’t put a cold dish from the fridge straight on to cook or run a hot dish under really cold water. Leave it to reach room temperature first.
9. Finish with something fresh
Slow cookers specialise in thick, rich, saucy numbers with tons of flavour packed into them. Sometimes this can get a little intense, so the best way to give your dish some flair is to throw in something fresh right before you serve. A little lemon juice, fresh herbs, grated Parmesan or hot sauce can make all the difference.
10. Don’t touch it!
It can be very tempting to open the lid and take a peek at your dish. Stop! Every time you open the lid you release the heat, so it will take longer to cook over all.
What are your tips for using a slow cooker? Let us know in the comments below.