A beginner’s guide to slow cooking
Slow cooking is a great way to cook dishes for the whole family, or to batch-cook and freeze meals ahead of time, but what if you’ve never used a slow cooker before and are a little daunted by the prospect? Don’t worry: we’ve put together a helpful guide to show you how to get started.
What is a slow cooker?
As the name suggests, a slow cooker is an electrical appliance which cooks food at a lower temperature than other cooking methods. It features a removable inner pot, which is heated by an element in the base, and an all-important lid that keeps all the heat and steam inside during cooking. Slow cookers automatically control the temperature and cooking time, so you can choose to have it cooking throughout the day on the LOW setting or set it for a shorter time on HIGH.
Why use a slow cooker?
Slow cooking is a quick and easy way to create hearty but healthy home-cooked meals. All you need to do is spend a few minutes preparing the ingredients and then let the slow cooker do all the hard work. As the food cooks and produces steam, it condenses on the lid and drips back into the pot, so it’s self-basting, meaning that the ingredients simmer in their own juices and retain more of their nutrients and flavour, giving you deliciously tender results.
What can I cook in a slow cooker?
Slow cooking is fantastic for cooking cheaper and tougher cuts of meat that benefit from a longer, slower cooking time, including oxtail, beef brisket, pork shoulder, chicken thighs and lamb shanks. It’s also great for cooking vegetables, cheap lentils, beans and pulses.
Which slow cooker do I need?
It really depends on how many you’re cooking for. Our 1.5 litre model is ideal for side dishes or a meal for two, and has all the features of larger models while being compact enough to store easily. If you have a family of four to feed, or want to batch-cook meals to store in your freezer, our 3.5 litre model is the ideal kitchen addition. There’s also our huge 6 litre slow cooker which is also great for batch cooking, and catering for large families.
Rules for slow cooking
- Don’t lift the lid! Taking the lid off during cooking releases all the precious heat and steam inside, a big no-no as it means your food will dry out and take longer to cook.
- Slow cooking recipes don’t need as much liquid. This is because not much evaporates during cooking, so it’s important to not add too much water, stock or alcohol to your recipe.
- Season well.
- If your recipe calls for a dairy product like cream, don’t add it until the end, or it’ll curdle.
Slow cooker tips
- It’s not essential, but it’s always better to braise, or brown, raw meat before cooking it in a slow cooker. The low heat of a slow cooker means you can’t brown meat in it, so brown it in a pan before adding it to your slow cooker’s pot – this brings out the flavour of the meat and gives your dish an extra deep flavour.
- The liquid won’t reduce or thicken in a slow cooker, so adding flour can help to thicken it.
How do I cook in it?
Pick your recipe, prepare your ingredients and pop them in the pot, then switch it on and leave it to cook your food to perfection. And when you finish, the removable pot and lid make it easy to clean up.
To get you started, here are a few fantastic recipes to make in your slow cooker.
You can have a really lazy Sunday with this delicious chicken recipe – all that’s required is a bit of prep, then pop it in the slow cooker and leave it to do its thing while you do the crossword or potter around the house or garden.
For a truly satisfying meal, you can’t beat this flavoursome and comforting casserole, full of soft, succulent lamb and thickened with pearl barley.
You just can’t beat the taste of these gorgeously sticky ribs with a hint of chilli.
Perfect for anyone who likes a bit of spice or just for warming your belly, this chunky soup can be made vegetarian-friendly by simply swapping the chicken stock for vegetable stock.