A slow cooker can be a welcome addition to any busy household provided that you learn a few tricks of the trade when using it.
The slow cooker is ideal for two reasons. Firstly, you can set it up on the morning and have a hot meal waiting for you when you get home at night. The second reason is that it won’t make the entire kitchen hot, so it is ideal in summer months for people who want hot food but don’t want to heat up the whole house.
If you already have a slow cooker, try to find the instructions that go with it. Read it from cover to cover. Make sure you know the capacity of the cooker – that is, how many cups it holds.
If you are in the market for one, read the reviews online. Check the capacity. If you have a large family, buy the largest one. Also consider buying the largest one if you would like to batch cook make-and-freeze meals. Eat one meal fresh and pack up the rest into the freezer, so you will always have healthy homemade food on hand.
Finding a Place to Put It
Some slow cookers can be really large. If you don’t have a lot of counter space, consider putting it in an accessible corner or in the dining room. If you have to haul it in and out of the cabinet all the time, chances are you’re not going to get as much use out of it as you could.
* Start with room temperature ingredients
* Don’t open the lid once you have started the cooking process
* Place the hard root vegetables on the bottom near the heat source
* Follow the recipe carefully
Don’t try to get creative when first starting out. Follow the recipe exactly as written and make notes. You need to have the right balance of solids and liquids and don’t want to burn anything.
* Always brown your meat before cooking in the slow cooker
This seals in flavor. Don’t discard the bits in the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of red wine, stir and scrape to loosen, and add to the slow cooker.
* Dredge the meat before browning if you want a thicker sauce
Flouring the meat, browning, and adding everything to the slow cooker will make the sauce thicker, for creamier soups and stews.
* Aim for your optimal temperature
Food needs to be cooked above 140 degrees F in order to kill bacteria. If you have tried to cook on the warm setting or the slow cooker has been unplugged, do not eat it. Discard and explore other options.
* Don’t use frozen food
Loading a slow cooker with icy ingredients will keep food in the danger zone where bacteria can flourish (40 to 140 degrees F). So make sure your meat and vegetables are fully thawed before turning the cooker on. The exception is prepackaged slow-cooker meals sold in the freezer case; these are fine to use as long as you follow the package’s directions.
* Don’t overfill
For the best results, fill between one-half and two-thirds full. Don’t make it brim up to the top — it will boil over.
* Trim all fat
This will prevent your liquid from becoming a greasy mess. Remove poultry skin as well, for the same reason.
* Cut pieces evenly
Try to keep all cut-up meat and vegetables roughly the same size so you don’t get any hard or chewy bits.
* Add dairy last
If you are going to add sour cream, milk, cheese or yogurt to the recipe, stir them in during the last 15 minutes of cooking so they don’t break down and curdle or ooze.
Follow these tips and you will soon have mastered the art of cooking with a slow cooker.