How to Slow Cook
Slow Cooking 101
Convenience is perhaps the key advantage of using a slow cooker. It allows you to both prepare the ingredients and serve the meal whenever it fits your schedule. That means you could slice and dice in the morning then turn on the slow cooker and go about your busy day. Dinnertime can be whenever everyone assembles, or staggered as each family member serves themselves upon arrival. That’s part of the magic of a slow cooker: you don’t even have to be home but you’re still taking care of the family meal. From a health standpoint, slow cooking uses moist heat, which is better than frying in fats or oils. It’s also a great way to do pot roasts, chicken and even pasta dishes.
Benefits of Slow Cooking
Slow cookers are an ideal way to enjoy inexpensive meat like beef brisket, pork shoulder and lamb shoulder because the moist, slow heating process tenderizes these traditionally tougher cuts. Pasta dishes are equally easy. With limited preparation you can come home to a rich, creamy macaroni & cheese delight or zesty lasagna with meat sauce.
Slow Cooking vs. Roasting
Roasting is a dry cooking method done in the oven where all the ingredients must remain uncovered (except for pot roasts). You may prefer this method for some cuts of meat because it allows a crisp, tasty shell to form on the outside. Slow cooking is done in a crock with a sealed lid and uses moist heat and condensation generated from the ingredients. You don’t get the crispy shell, but you do get a delicious gravy or sauce to serve over the meal.
Tools & Steps
Slow cookers are available in various sizes ranging in capacity of 1.5 to 8 quarts. A basic model will have a ‘low’, ‘high’ and off setting, while more advanced models have digital functions including timers, a keep warm setting, temperature control, a removable stoneware liner and tempered glass lid. Slow cookers often come with a recipe book to get you started. Use a ladle or large spoon for serving.
- Add your liquid, cut up vegetables and meat.
- Place the slow cooker on the counter near an outlet. The sides may get hot so the appliance should be placed about 6 inches away from walls or other appliances.
- Turn the slow cooker on. A low setting will take approximately 8 to 10 hours to cook; high should take about 4 to 6 hours.
- If you’re preparing pasta, the recipe may require the pasta and/or any seafood to be added during the latter part of cooking.
- If preparing a meat and vegetable dish the night before, place everything in the removable stoneware and refrigerate overnight.
Pulled pork is easy to prepare in many variations, though a rich, brothy or barbecue sauce is essential. Pork shoulder is the best cut to use: it’s tough but will tenderize and become succulent through the slow cooking process. Best of all, it’s also inexpensive. Once the meat has been cooked, all that’s required is to remove it from the cooker and shred using two forks, discarding any large pieces of fat. This dish makes a great meal either sandwiched in a Kaiser bun or on its own with mashed potatoes, coleslaw and biscuits.
Slow Cooked Ribs
A popular but basic sauce for slow cooked ribs is made with ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder and sometimes beer or whisky. A convenient alternative is a prepared BBQ sauce, though both will ensure a moist and tender meal. Preparing ribs in the slow cooker allows you to enjoy this tangy fall-off-the-bone dish year round.
Pot Roast & Pork Roast
Slow cooked pot roast has a moist texture throughout compared to the crispy outer layer of roasting a similar cut. Cheaper, tougher cuts like brisket, chuck eye and flat iron steak work best. Slow cooking converts the tough connective tissue into soft, delicious collagen which makes for a fall-off-the-bone eating experience. Use the slow cooker to enjoy this family favourite any night of the week. To achieve the deep, dark colour of roasting, brown your meat before placing it into the cooker, then add liquid and simmer. The liquid makes a delicious base for gravy.
Similar to a pot roast, a pork roast is a traditional meal that can be enjoyed anytime using a slow cooker. Choose a pork shoulder blade roast or picnic roast; add a few vegetables such as carrots, onions and potatoes, onion soup mix and water for an easy weeknight recipe. Dry rubs can also be used to infuse different flavours into the pork.
Slow-Cooked Ham & Chicken
For a savoury meal, a bone-in picnic ham cooked in brown sugar is an easy meal to prepare and enjoy. Glazed ham is another simple recipe that’s perfectly suitable for weekday or holiday meals using a bone-in fully cooked ham, apple juice, brown sugar, honey and mustard. For a special occasion, scalloped potatoes are a traditional accompaniment to ham.
Chicken lends itself well to slow cooking. Cook a whole chicken with lemon, broth and herbs, and root vegetables for a classic meal. Internationally-inspired meals are just as easy and can make use of chicken thighs or chicken breasts. Try a Thai version using curry, peanut sauce and coconut milk served over jasmine rice, or a warm Indian curry made with boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs), coconut milk, curry powder, tomato sauce, chickpeas and sweet potatoes.
Lasagna and Mac & Cheese
This is an easy meal to prepare for pasta night. With just a few simple ingredients such as mozzarella cheese, ground beef (browned beforehand), pasta sauce, ricotta or cottage cheese and lasagna noodles, it can be enjoyed with salad and garlic bread for a well-rounded meal. Mac & cheese can be enjoyed any night of the week and will please the whole family. Macaroni, milk, butter, sharp cheddar cheese, and seasonings are all added to create a homemade favourite. Pasta cooks quickly so the slow cooker should be set on low.
Slow Cooking Tips:
- Though not necessary, onions can be cooked beforehand to caramelize the flavour
- Don’t overfill the slow cooker; half to two-thirds should suffice
- If you want a thicker sauce, meat can be tossed in flour beforehand
- The low setting is good for inexpensive cuts of meat; it gives them more time to tenderize and helps bring out the flavour
- Once in place, leave the lid on to avoid releasing heat that potentially extends the cooking time required
- For convenience, choose recipes in which most, or all, of the ingredients can be added at once
- Defrost the meat or vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker
- If the recipe contains seafood, add it during the last hour of cooking time so it remains tender instead of overcooked and rubbery.
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