Slow-cooked meals are a dream to eat and a breeze to cook. As the evenings get darker quicker and the weather’s not up to much, now’s the perfect time to be whipping up winter warmers. 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 slow-cook like a pro and slice hours off your working week.
1. Embrace cheaper cuts (and save money)
It’s an old chestnut, but cheaper cuts of meat really do bring tons of flavour to stewy proceedings. Cuts such as brisket, shoulder, shin, skirt, chuck and belly demand slow cooking because they are 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 into a pot with root veg and wine and leaving it to do its thing, or try using beef bones to get your broth on. Slow-cooking performs the same magic on vegetables too, amping up all of their flavours to reveal layer after layer of new luscious depths as well as keeping all of their goodness in one place too.
Try slow-cooking curried lentils in advance and enjoy with pan fried hake for warming midweek supper.
2. A little prep goes a long way
Recognise the gnarly brown bits at the bottom of the pan when you fry something? These bits and bobs are where the flavour building begins and is a step well worth doing if you’re after some glorious umami (and doesn’t need to be a big squeeze on your time). Browning meat before it goes low and slow makes for a delicious caramelised crust and a flavour that layers up as the slow-cook goes on. Try browning floured meat cuts to ramp up the caramelisation and keep the flavour locked into each meaty morsel. The same goes for vegetables – pan frying onions on the lowest heat until meltingly soft (at least 15 minutes) will knock your soups, stews and curries into next Sunday. When you’re about to cook something for a good few hours, it really is worth it to put this little extra effort in at the beginning with quality ingredients to thoroughly enjoy all week long. Which leads us to…
Give slow cooking Minestrone a go and munch on it all week.
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 and this is where the time-saving part really kicks in. They’re there to be cooked once and enjoyed all week – making for the perfect midweek meal when feeling lazy and needing something tasty, sharpish. Taking some time to get your slow-cook on means it’s effortlessly easy to make every dinner day like a Sunday – melt-in-the-mouth brisket on a Tuesday? Done. Flavour-packed vegetable chilli on a Wednesday? Why yes, of course. Handily, the flavour of a cooked stew or pie-like dish usually intensifies over time (ever wondered why a lasagne can taste better on day two? The flavours have had longer to intermingle and get cosy, a bit like a marinade). Make double the original amount and freeze in tupperware to defrost and reheat later in the week. By batch cooking your slow-suppers and making them in advance, not only will your midweek suppers have an unbeatable flavour, but you can truly shave hours off your working week.
Marinated slow cooked aubergines make for super-tender midweek veggie dish.
4. Go slow, go low
Slow is good. There are no shortcuts when it comes to slow-cooking, making it the perfect excuse to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon building your slow-supper to perfection, or popping food in a slow-cooker before work. 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 (rather than speeding things up on a higher heat). 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 and a dollop of yoghurt for a fresh, clean kick and voila – supper’s sorted.
Slow cook Spag Bol for flavour like no other. If you like it then you better put a lid on it
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! Every time you open the lid both heat and moisture are released, lowering the temperature of your bounty and letting that luscious liquid go up in vapour. Opening the lid over a period of 8 hours will definitely make a dent into your timings and your liquid a little less viscous. The joy of not peeping means you keep all the nutritious liquid from your meat and veggies 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.
Slow-cooked comfort food isn’t just for weekends. We invite you to embrace the best local and seasonal British vegetables, meat and game with Farmdrop and make November a #MonthOfSundays!