Well that seems extreme, you might say. And it is. But I want to say it because there are better ways to cook with a slow cooker than what most recipes say. If you cook the way they recommend, you’ll may get tired of your slow cooker and all the overcooked food floating in liquid. That’s too bad if you do, because it’s a great appliance. So here’s some tips on how you can use your slow cooker better.
- Don’t cook for hours and hours unless you have to. So many recipes say cook on high for 4-6 hours or for 8 or more hours on low. That’s fine if you have to leave the house for a long period of time. But if you can, try and check on your meat well before that. For example, I find that around 1-1.5 hour/pound on high will get my meat to the temperature I want it to be. I will get out my thermometer at that point and check the internal temperature. Often it is done or close to done. I can then switch it to keep warm or even serve it. Now you can keep it cooking if you find it is too tough still. But for some cuts of meat, you will be good to go.
- Don’t add too much liquid. Try and stick with recipes that don’t add too much liquid to the beginning of the recipe. For example, I have made this pot roast recipe from Martha Stewart without any stock and it came out fine and still saucy. Likewise this beef stew recipe from Martha has a bit of balsamic but also lots of tomato paste but it comes out fine. The longer you leave things in the cooker, the more liquid will generally be released. If you have too much, separate it from the rest of the dish at the end, then just give people as much as you feel necessary. Or make a roux and then add the liquid to it to thicken it up. If you have vegetables in there, they will release liquid.
- Don’t fuss with pre and post cooking if you don’t want to.: I learned this from Jamie Oliver. You will see recipes talk about browning the meat before hand. That’s fine. But if you want to just dump it all in the pot and stir it about, that’s fine too. I made this bistro beef recipe with sundried tomatoes today. (See image above). In the recipe there’s a lot of precooking before it all goes into the slow cooker. I did none of that. I just dumped it all into the pot and stirred it around so it was well mixed and then set the slow cooker on high. (I checked the meat a few hours later and it was done so I set it to low).
- Don’t cook vegetables for hours and hours in the slow cooker. You can, but often if you do, they will be very soft. If they are there to add flavour (e.g., onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes), that’s fine. But consider treating them as a mirepoix. For serving, have a seperate set of vegetables. For example, I will often steam or roast or mash some vegetables separately and then serve them with the meat and the sauce from the slow cooker.
- Get a good book like Martha’s One Pot or Hugh Acheson’s The Chef and The Slow Cooker if you want to see what a slow cooker can really do. I have both of them and they are great.
So there are some tips. Some of them help make cooking with the slow cooker easier, all of them help you cook better. Enjoy.