Invaluable tips for getting slow cooker recipes right to help you slow-cook like a pro and slice hours off your working week.
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)
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.
2. A little prep goes a long way
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.
3. Batch it up (and save time)
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.
4. Go slow, go low
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.
5. No touching
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.
This article was originally published in November 2016 and has since been updated.