Who can get through winter without a slow cooker in the kitchen? There’s nothing like arriving home to the welcoming aroma of a cooked meal, even better without having slaved over a stove to create it.
Putting a chicken in the slow cooker and adding vegetables and seasoning is all that’s needed before you run out the door for the day, but are you using your slow cooker correctly? Not all efforts are as successful, since leaving raw meat and vegetables cooking on the benchtop can be a risky endeavour. A little know-how and planning can help to avoid disaster and turn an investment in a slow cooker into the ultimate life saver for the home cook.
The biggest mistake people make with a slow cooker
“Don’t put frozen or partially thawed meat or poultry into the slow cooker as it takes too long to thaw and may not be cooked sufficiently,” says the advice on the Food Safety Information Council website. Whole chickens are particularly perilous so it’s wise to leave overnight or longer in your fridge to thaw completely.
It also warns against adding beans to the recipe saying that, “As few as four or five raw beans can cause severe stomach ache, vomiting and diarrhoea.” Soaking your beans ahead of time for several hours removes toxins, or use canned beans instead, added at the end of the cook.
Once cooking is complete, leave it in the slow cooker on the “keep warm” setting to maintain a high temperature and avoid bacteria growing in the food. “Keep the food at a safe holding temperature of 60°C or above until you are ready to eat it,” warns the Food Safety Information Council site. The right environment for bacterial growth in food should be either adequately cold or properly hot, with the “danger zone” between approximately 4°C and 60°C. When in doubt, try this handy food safety quiz.
SHOP SLOW COOKERS
Tips for how to use a slow cooker
1. Use the right size
Some slow cookers are more compact than others and unable to fit a whole chicken or enough food for a family. It’s recommended to fill a slow cooker to two-thirds capacity to allow food to cook evenly.
2. Layer ingredients
Ingredients that require the most cooking time – such as root vegetables and meat – should be placed into your slow cooker first when preparing a cook. Avoid lifting the lid during the cooking process as this may increase cooking time. Seafood, dairy, fresh herbs and beans (see above) can be added at the end of the cooking process.
3. Correct food preparation
Practice makes perfect but cutting your vegetables to a uniform size promotes even cooking throughout. If possible, use tougher cuts of meat and sear the outside before putting it into the slow cooker to seal in the juices and promote tenderness and richer flavours.
4. Use liquid sparingly
The secret to slow cooking is the retention of moisture, so unless you’re making soup, add liquid sparingly at the start of cooking. Particularly when using a recipe originally intended for stove-top cooking, it’s wise to reduce the liquid by at least half.
5. Add seasoning and fresh ingredients at the end
A flourish of fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon or a can of beans stirred through a dish just before serving adds complexity and freshness. Crunchy croutons, grated cheese or chopped nuts give a “just cooked” texture to impress and delight.
Recipes for slow cookers
Try these scrumptious recipes in your slow cooker! Remember to reduce liquid if necessary.