Slow Cooking Tips and Tricks

Economical slow cookers are a great timer-saver and perfect to make the most of fresh season produce to create well-rounded meals with ease.

Besides their time and energy efficiency, slow cookers transform inexpensive cuts of meat into juicy, full-of-flavour main dishes.  Slow cooking frees you up from the demand of today's hectic lifestyles to focus on other things. Here’s some tips and tricks to get you started:

Chicken Pumpkin Casserole

This chicken casserole has plenty of veggies and is perfect for the colder weather.

1. Minimise effort and save time

One of the main benefits of slow cookers is that it’s easy and fuss-free so when you're looking for ideas, avoid complicated recipes.  You can just throw whatever ingredients you have on hand into soups and stews. Keep it simple, don’t worry about browning meat or onions.

2. Forward planning

A bit of forward planning will save you time in the long-run. Prepare everything you need for your slow-cooked meal the night before if you’re short of time in the mornings.  Get your dish out of the fridge as soon as you wake up.  Ideally it should be at room temperature before turning the cooker on.

3. Use cheaper meats

Slow cookers are great for cooking inexpensive cuts of meat. With slow-cooking you can use less meat as the meaty flavours infuse the whole dish so you can bulk up with vegetables instead.

4. Low fat

You shouldn’t need to add oil to slow cooking recipes as if there’s enough moisture in the dish it wont stick.  Simply trim off all visible fat from your meat cuts. It makes for a healthier meal and taste won’t be compromised.

5. Go easy on liquids

Liquid level should not exceed half to two thirds full.  Your slow cooker has a tightly sealed lid so liquids won't evaporate like standard cooking.  Reduce the liquid by a third to just cover the meat and vegetables. Don't overfill your slow cooker or it may start leaking out the top and food won't cook as well.

6. Thickening

Just as the liquid doesn't reduce with cooking, it also won’t thicken up. Roll meat in a small amount of seasoned flour before adding it to the slow cooker or try a little cornflour at the end. Take a teaspoon or two of cornflour and mix it to a paste with a little cold water. Stir the paste into your simmering slow cooker contents and replace the lid.

7. How slow should it go?

It’s best to use the 'Low' setting on your cooker as most dishes benefit from the slow, gentle heat over a longer period of time to really bring out the flavours.

8. During cooking time

Leave it alone, you don't need to keep checking the contents as a slow cooker is designed to work unsupervised! If the lid is removed at any time during the cooking process it will release some of the heat which will only extend cooking time.

9. When to add ingredients

It’s best to choose recipes where most, if not all, of the ingredients can be added at the beginning, leaving you free to do other things. If the recipe calls for pasta, rice and fresh herbs add these towards the end of cooking time.

10. Cooking times

Root vegetables like potatoes, kumara, yams and carrots can take longer than meat and other vegetables so put these at the bottom of the pot where the heat source is at its highest.

If the dish usually takes:

•  15 - 30 mins:   cook for 4 - 6 hours on Low (or 1 - 2 hours on High)

•  30 mins - 1 hour:  cook for 5 - 7 hours on Low (or 2 - 3 hours on High)

•  1 - 2 hours:  cook for 6 - 8 hours on Low  (or 3 - 4 hours on High)

•  2 - 4 hours, cook for 8 - 12 hours on Low (or 4 - 6 hours on High)

Best of all, at the end of the day be greeted by delicious aromas of cooked dinner. Enjoy!

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