Cooking

5 Time-Saving Tips To Ace Slow Cooker Recipes

15th August 2019

Invaluable tips for getting slow cooker recipes right to help you slow-cook like a pro and slice hours off your working week.

Pork and bean stew, slow cooked to perfection. Photo: Natale Towell.

Slow-cooked meals are a dream to eat and a breeze to cook. Think you don’t have enough time for slow-cooking? Think again. You’ll actually save time, money and win major nutrition points by making the most out of seasonal ingredients with little effort and a lot of tasty reward. Here are our top hints and tips to help you become a slow-cook pro and save hours in the kitchen.

1. Embrace cheaper cuts (and save money)

Ward off ills with homemade Chicken Noodle Broth. Photo: Natale Towell.

It’s an old chestnut, but cheaper cuts of meat really do bring tons of flavour to the pot. Cuts such as brisket, shoulder, shin, skirt, chuck and belly demand slow cooking because they’re from a part of the animal has had to work harder. The result? Deep, layered, incredible flavours that just can’t be replicated in a quick-cook scenario.

Have a go at a classic meaty stew by throwing chuck or shin in a pot with root veg and red wine. Or try using beef bones or chicken carcasses that would otherwise go to waste to get your broth on. Slow-cooking performs the same magic on vegetables too, amping up flavours to reveal layers of luscious depths as well as keeping all of their goodness in.

Chicken Noodle Broth

Ingredients
  • 1 chicken carcass
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 leek, peeled
  • 10g three cornered garlic, chopped
  • 120g noodles

What you’ll need

  • 6 peppercorns
Here’s how you do it
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Pop the carcass on a tray, season and roast for 20 minutes until golden, turning halfway.
  2. Remove from oven and leave to cool slightly. Pick off any big bits of meat from the carcass and set aside for later.
  3. Roughly chop half the carrot and half the leek and pop into a large saucepan with the carcass and peppercorns. Roughly dice the other half of the carrot and leek and keep aside for later.
  4. Add 3 litres of cold water to the saucepan (this will reduce to around 1-1.5 litres of stock) and bring to boil. Cover with a lid and simmer for an hour, skimming the foamy scum with a spoon.
  5. Remove the lid and simmer for a further 45 minutes. Strain the through a sieve and discard the bones and aromatics (you might want to strain twice for an extra clear stock).
  6. Leave the stock to cool then skim off the layer of fat from the top and place in a saucepan. On a medium heat, sweat the diced carrot and leek in the chicken fat for 5 minutes until soft.
  7. Add the reserved chicken meat and the stock to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Pop in the noodles and simmer for 5 minutes until cooked.
  8. Stir through the remaining chopped three cornered garlic, divide between two deep bowls and serve.

2. A little prep goes a long way

Try slow-cooking dahl in advance and enjoy with pan fried hake for warming midweek supper. Photo: Natale Towell.

Browning meat or vegetables at the beginning imparts a caramelised flavour that’s essential to the magic slow cooking and is a step that shouldn’t be skipped. Recognise the gnarly brown bits at the bottom of the pan when you fry something? These bits are where the flavour building begins and is a step well worth doing if you’re after some glorious umami.

Try browning meat cuts lightly dusted in flour to ramp up the caramelisation and keep the flavour locked in. The same goes for vegetables. Pan fry onions on the lowest heat until meltingly soft (at least 15 minutes) to knock your soups, stews and curries into next Sunday.

Sweet Potato, Coconut and Tomato Dahl
Ingredients
  • 250g organic red split lentils
  • 2 organic sweet potatoes
  • 225g cherry tomatoes
  • 400ml organic coconut milk
  • 1 organic brown onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of organic garlic, chopped
  • 40g organic ginger, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1 organic red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 organic lime
Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Add the lentils to a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes until the lentils are soft.
  3. Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch chunks, add to a roasting tin with oil and a pinch of salt and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
  4. Warm the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and sweat on a low heat for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli to the onion and cook for two minutes.
  6. Now add the cumin, turmeric and garam masala, cooking for one minute more.
  7. Add the onion mix to the lentils, along with the coconut milk and halved cherry tomatoes, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Stir through the roasted sweet potato, then leave it to stand for 5 minutes and season with salt and lime juice.
  9. Serve with a hunk of sourdough or naan to mop up the goodness.

3. Batch it up (and save time)

Always prepare for seconds when it comes to pulled pork. Photo: Natale Towell.

The beauty of slow-cooked meals is that they do the hard work so you don’t have to. This is where the time-saving part really kicks in. Taking some time to get your slow-cook on means it’s effortlessly easy to make every dinner day like a Sunday. The flavour of a cooked stew or pie-like dish intensifies over time as the ingredients have had longer to intermingle and get cosy – making that weekend bolognese all the better come Monday.

To make the most of your slow cooked meals, make double the original amount and freeze in tupperware. Batch cooking slow-suppers in advance will give your midweek meals unbeatable flavour and you’ll also save yourself a lot of time during the week. Double win.

Pulled Pork Buns & Fennel Slaw

Ingredients

For the pork

  • 2 onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsp smoked sea salt
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2kg pork shoulder
  • 250ml South Carolina bbq sauce
  • 4 sourdough buns

For the slaw

  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 celery stalks
  • A handful of dill
  • 1 lemon
  • 150g creme fraiche
  • salt & pep
Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 140°C. Peel and quarter onions and place in a deep baking tray around double the size of the pork with the bay leaves.
  2. For the rub, combine the sugar, salt and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar. Bash together for a minute then rub into the pork, making sure you get into all the crevices.
  3. Place the pork on a wire rack on top of the onions in the baking tray. Pour one pint of water into the tray then cover the whole thing tightly with foil (this will prevent the meat from drying out). Cook in the oven for 6 hours or until the pork pulls apart in easy chunks, topping up the tray with water half way through cooking if it dries out.
  4. For the slaw, remove any scruffy fronds from the fennel. Either using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the fennel bulb and celery stalks super thin and place in a bowl. Finely chop the dill and add to the bowl along with the juice from the lemon, the creme fraiche, salt and pepper. Chill until needed.
  5. After 6 hours, remove the pork from the oven. Remove the pork and pop the tray on top of the stove, fishing out the bay leaves. Pour in the BBQ sauce, bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, pull the meat apart into bite-sized chunks using two forks. Tip into the BBQ sauce warm and mix with a fork.
  7. To serve, toast the buns in a griddle pan or pop in the toaster. Fill the buns generously with pulled pork and the fennel slaw and serve.

4. Go slow, go low

Go low and slow for Phở. Photo: Natale Towell.

The great thing about dishes cooked slowly is that in their nature they ooze flavour, without all the legwork you’d usually need to put in to impart a big flavour punch in quick dish. Take things up a notch and slow-cook your dish for longer on the lowest heat and you’ll find most dishes benefit from gentle heat over a longer period of time.

Going low and slow means flavours have more time to develop with the added benefit of your kitchen smelling scrumptious. Go from 4 hours to 8 hours and you’re destined for a spot on the slow-cook hall of fame. Throw fresh herbs in the end for a clean kick and voilà – supper’s sorted.

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Phở

Ingredients

For the broth

  • 1kg beef bones
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (larder)
  • 8 peppercorns (larder)
  • 50g fresh ginger
  • 1 large onion (larder)
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce (larder)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

For the accompaniments

  • 200g fillet steak
  • 100g bean sprouts
  • 25g mint
  • 3 birds eye chillies
  • 200g brown rice noodles
  • 1 lime
  • 150g spring onions
Method
  1. Firstly blanch the bones to remove any impurities. Place the beef bones in a large saucepan or stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil then keep on a rolling boil for 10 minutes as the scum rises to the top. Remove the scum from the top then pour away all the boiling water, through a colander to retain the bones. Rinse the bones in more cold water then pat each bone dry with kitchen paper.
  2. Now clean your saucepan then return to the heat with 4 litres cold water, the cleaned beef bones, star anise, cinnamon stick and peppercorns. Half the onion and roughly chop the ginger then add to the pan.
  3. Bring the stock up to the boil then gently simmer for at least 5 hours or up to 8 hours. As the water reduces, keep topping up so that the bones are covered with water at all times.
  4. When you’re nearly ready to serve, prep all of your accompaniments: pull off and discard the tougher stalks from the mint and discard, keeping the leaves whole. Finely slice the spring onions and chillies.
  5. Bash the fillet steak so that it is the same thickness throughout then thinly slice (this is best done fresh from the fridge as the steak will keep together better when cool). Arrange the accompaniments on a platter on the dinner table, for everyone to serve themselves.
  6. Soak the noodles in freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. While the noodles soften, drain your bone broth into another saucepan through a sieve and discard the bones (they have done their job!). Bring the beef broth to the boil then turn off the heat. Stir in the sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce and the juice from 1/2 lime (cutting the other half into wedges for garnish).
  7. Serve immediately whilst the broth is still hot: drain the noodles and divide between 3-4 deep serving bowls. Next divide the strips of steak between each bowl then pour over the hot broth. Top each bowl with the herbs, beansprouts, spring onions and chilli then finish with a final squeeze of lime.

Chef’s Tip: it’s important to blanch the bones before you make your broth. This technique removes any unnecessary fat and impurities from the bones, leaving a clearer, less fatty stock.

5. No touching

If you like it then you better put a lid on it: slow-cook Spag Bol for flavour like no other. Photo: Natale Towell.

One phrase to bear in mind is ‘set it and forget it’. As tempting as it may be, don’t lift the lid for a peek. Each time you open the lid heat and moisture are released, lowering the temperature of what’s inside and letting that luscious liquid go up in vapour. Opening the lid over a period of eight hours will make also make a dent in your timings.

The joy of not peeping means you keep all the nutritious liquid in one place. If you’d like to thicken it up, add some cornflour right at the end, or reduce in another pan on the hob before devouring your sticky stash.

Spag Bol

Method
  • 350g dry aged beef mince
  • 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 350g white spaghetti
  • 80g grated parmesan, to serve
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
Method
  1. Heat a glug of oil in a heavy based pan on low heat. Sweat the onion, garlic and carrots together with the bay leaf for around 8 minutes, stirring frequently until soft but not coloured.
  2. Crank up the heat then add the mince. Break it up the mince with a wooden spoon as it fries to create smaller chunks and continue for around 5 minutes until brown.
  3. Make up the beef stock cube with 200ml boiling water. Add to the pan with the tinned tomatoes, oregano and chilli flakes and season.
  4. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat right down, place the lid on top and simmer for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom. If the bolognese begins to look a little dry, top up with a little boiling water.
  5. Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water 10-12 minutes until cooked, bur with a bite. Pour a ladleful of the pasta water into the sauce (the starch will help the sauce coat the spaghetti then drain and portion into pasta bowls. Ladle your bolognese on top and cover with generous shavings of Parmesan.

Chef’s Tip: Keep hold of your old parmesan rinds, they add an incredible depth and ‘next day flavour.’ Pop one in when you add the tomatoes, just remember to fish it out before you serve.

This article was originally published in November 2016 and has since been updated.

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