Slow cooking provides a way of preparing delicious budget meals that can be prepared well in advance and with minimum effort? Its easy to do, but hard to do properly. Here we provide all you need to know to prepare wonderful flavoursome and hearty meals using slow cooking techniques, from equipment guides, advice for selecting and preparing the ingredients, cooking times and many fabulous slow cook recipes prepared by out team of experts.
Slow cooking is the perfect way to prepare and enjoy fully cooked meals with minimum amount of effort and hands-on time. The method is also budget-friendly because you can use cheaper and tougher cuts of meat, which are often very tasty, but have to be cooked for a longer time to make them tender. Once cooked these cuts are transformed into flavoursome meals that is some ways out perform the more expensive cuts of meat in terms of flavor. Using slow cook methods you don't have to stand there watching the pot. After a relatively short preparation time you can pot tem in the pot to slowly simmer away for several hours without needing any attention, apart from an occasional stir. The slow cooking approach guarantees that the dish will be tender, juicy and tasty results every time. Slow cooking also allows the meat and vegetables to combine together and create some wonderful sauces, with the individual items still retaining their own taste and texture.
While the basic principles for slow cooking are the same, the cooking techniques, process and times vary depending on the equipment you use. Below are the four main types of equipment used for slow cooking.
An oven-top stockpot is a large pot with two handles and a lid, usually made from stainless steel, cast iron or aluminium. Stockpots vary in size capacity with the larger ones often wider than they are tall. They are essentially a large saucepan designed for quite larger quantities. Cooking using a stockpot on the stovetop means you can adjust the heat easily, and can use the thermostat built into the stove element to control the heat (you may set the pan so that it only covers half of the element for lower heating rates, or you can use a metal rack above the element. Once the food is cooked, you can thicken the sauce directly in the pan before serving. The large size of the stockpots can be a disadvantage if you only want to cook a small amount. An enamelled cast iron pot of suitable size makes an ideal stockpot. A pot with a heavy base means that you can brown the meat over high heat in the one pot. Otherwise you may need to brown the meat in a frying pan. Choose a pot with a stick-free surface coating, or a cast one or enamel-lined pot to help prevent sticking and burning.
You can slow cook in the oven with any of the standard casserole dishes or baking pots with a lid. The metal ones can be used to fry the meat, initially and then transferred to the oven. When making a casserole, the meat is generally covered in a little flour and then browned by frying on the stovetop before being added to the casserole dish with vegetables, herbs and liquid.
The casserole is covered with a lid and is then placed in the oven to cook slowly until the meat is tender and the dish is ready to serve. The time and temperature can be varied to suit the time you have between preparation of the dish and when it is served. Cooking a dish in a casserole in the oven means that the heat is applied to the sides of the dish rather than just heating the base as occurs with cooktop heating. This means the dish is less likely to burn on the base of the dish. Flameproof casserole dishes are more versatile than the ceramic ones, but the latter are easier to keep clean and the food is less likely to stick to them.
Electric Stockpot, Crockpot, Slow CookerAn electric crockpot, or other forms of electrical slow cooker makes slow cooking a breeze. The best ones have a removable heatproof metal or ceramic pot that can be set inside a metal outer casing that has the element at the base. Most have transparent lids and various temperature controls and timing devices.
When the dish is cooked on the lowest temperature setting (sometimes there are only two), the food is heated at a very low temperature so it cooks very gently. This is used for very slow-cooking. Higher temperature settings can be used for quicker cooking. The design for most of these devices means that most of the heat comes from the side rather than from the base (to stop burning), so the pot needs to be filled between half and three-quarters full when cooking all the dishes. A slow cooker can also be employed to keep the dish warm until its ready to serve.
These electric slow cookers are very convenient. You can prepare all the ingredients, including browning the meat beforehand, and place them into the pot. The temperature and timing settings can be set for cooking the dish overnight or in the hours leading up to diner. The low temperatures mean that it is unlikely that the food will overcook and stick to the pot or burn, unless the temperature and time settings are incorrect.
Slow cookers with removable internal pots are easier to keep clean, and the units with the heating elements in the sides are better than the cheaper ones with the heating element in the base.
What is a Pressure cooker?
A pressure cooker is not a slow cooker, but it is used to cook many similar dishes and works well to tenderise cheaper cuts of meat for stews and curries.
This type of device uses team pressure to cook food quickly. The lid seals tight. When the pot is placed on the stovetop over high heat, this boils the liquid inside and generates steam. A pressure relief valve allows the pressure to build to a certain level and then it vents maintaining a high pressure inside the vessel. Steam gradually escapes out of the regulator on the lid.
A lot of care is required to use these devices, but they have been around for 30-40 years. The pressure needs to be released before opening the lid. It is also essential that the right amount of liquid is added to the cooker or the food won't cook properly or could burn.
What are the advantages of a pressure cooker? There are two advantages - faster cooking times and the process tends yields very tender meat.
The tougher cuts of meat are an excellent choice for slow cooking as they have lost of flavor and are inexpensive. The slow cooking process gently breaks down the connective tissue leaving the meat juicy and very tender. Meat cuts on the bone can boost the flavour of the sauce.
Meat suitable for slow cooking includes:
Despite cooking the meat for a long time, to generate flavour, you need to brown the meat (tossed in a little flour), a small amount at a time on the stovetop in a cast iron stockpot, a large frying pan or flameproof casserole dish before beginning the slow cooking process.
Place flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Add the meat and toss until well all side have a light coating of flour. Shake off any excess. The flour is important to help seal and brown the meat and to thicken the sauce. It is important to brown the meat after coating with in flour otherwise the flour may impart a floury taste to the sauce.
Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish, frying pan, Dutch oven or stockpot over moderate heat. Transfer meat in batches to the pan and fry flipping occasionally,until each piece is browned on every side. Remove each batch as it is cooked and set aside. Don't add too much as the meat may begin to stew in its own juices and may become tough. The meat should be brown on the outside but uncooked internally, otherwise it may toughen. The idea is to cook the meat slowly.
Return the browned meat to stockpot and add the remaining ingredients from the recipe, such as the herbs and spices, vegetables, stock and other liquid ingredients. If you have browned the meat in a separate frying pan, transfer the browned meat and all the other ingredients to a slow cooker or ovenproof casserole to start the slow cooking process.
1.25 kg (2.6 lb) blade bolar roast, gravy beef or topside
creamy polenta, to serve
basil, roughly chopped
1 cup halved button mushrooms
1/4 cup (80ml) red wine
400g (14 oz) canned whole tomatoes
1/3 cup (80ml) beef stock
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, cut into large rings
Add a little oil to a heavy frying pan or flameproof casserole dish and heat over moderate heat. Rub the beef pieces with a little oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and salt. Fry the beef to brown the outside, turning frequently, until browned on all sides. Remove the beef and set aside.
Transfer the onion to the bowl of the slow cooker and add the browned beef, stock, tomato, garlic and wine. Cover with the lid and slow cook following the instructions for the cooker you are using. About 20 minutes before serving, add mushrooms and optional fresh herbs to slow cooker, cover and finish the cooking. Remove the beef, place on a plate, cover and let rest for about 10 minutes. Then slice the beef across the grain onto the serving plates. Pour over the cooking juices and cooked tomatoes, sprinkle with basil and serve with mushrooms and creamy polenta or rice.
1.5kg (3.3 pounds) boneless lamb leg, trussed
1/4 cup (60ml) beef stock
1 lemon, cut into large wedges
3 teaspoons mixed herbs or dried oregano
5 garlic cloves, sliced, plus an extra head of garlic (unsliced)
steamed vegetables, to serve
Add a little oil to a heavy frying pan or flameproof casserole dish and heat over moderate heat. Rub the lamb pieces with a little oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and salt. Fry the beef to brown the outside, turning frequently, until browned on all sides. Remove the beef and set aside.
Use a sharp knife make several deep cuts in the meat, without cutting right through and fill the cuts with the slices of garlic.
Cut the extra head of garlic in half and add to the bowl of a slow cooker and place the lamb pieces on top. Sprinkle oregano over the lamb. Add the lemon and the stock to the bowl, and then cover with the lid and cook following instructions for your the slow cooker until lamb is tender and just cooked. Remove the lamb, cover and rest for about 10 minutes and then slice onto the serving plates. Pour on the remaining ingredients and juices from the slow cooker and serve with rice and steamed vegetables.
1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) piece boneless pork leg, trussed
1 apple, cut into wedges
400g (14 oz) can of white beans (cannellini), rinsed and then drained
1/4 cup (60ml) chicken stock
2 chorizo sausages, sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
steamed vegetables and crusty bread, to serve
Add a little oil to a heavy frying pan or flameproof casserole dish and heat over moderate heat. Rub all over the pork pieces with a some oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper, spices (optional) and salt. Fry the pork to brown the outside only on all sides, turning frequently. Remove the pork and set aside.
Add the pork pieces to a slow cooker along with the chorizo, rosemary, stock and other ingredients. Cover and cook according to your slow cooker instructions.
About 20 minutes before serving, add the white beans and apple to the slow cooker. Cover and finish the cooking. Remove the pork and set aside for about 10 minutes, then slice and place onto the serving plates and pour over the chorizo and bean mixture from the slow cooker. Serve with mashed potatoes, crusty bread and steamed vegetables.
1.8 kg (4 pounds) whole fresh chicken
Saffron rice, to serve
2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
185ml (3/4 cup) chicken stock
2 x 400g (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes
80ml (1/3 cup) dry sherry
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 large red capsicum, halved, de-seeded, cut into 2cm pieces
2 (about 180g; 6 oz) chorizo, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh oregano leaves, to serve
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Skin the chicken and rinse the outside and inside of the chicken under cold running water. Shake to remove moisture and pat dry with paper towel. Transfer the chicken, breast-side down, to clean surface suitable for cutting and subdividing the chicken. Using poultry shears or similar tools cut along both sides of the backbone. Remove and discard the backbone. Next halve the breast but cutting along the breastbone. Using a sharp knife cut between the thighs, around the legs and the breast to separate the drumsticks, thighs, wings and breasts (cut in half diagonally).
Heat some oil in a large frying pan or flameproof casserole dish over moderate heat. Add about one third to half the chicken, depending on the size of the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes each side until the chicken is golden. Set aside, and repeat with remaining chicken.
Add the capsicum, chorizo and onion to the dish. Fry stirring frequently for about 10 minutes until the chorizo is golden brown. Then add the sherry and continue frying for about 2 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half.
Place the chorizo mixture into a casserole dish or stockpot. Add the tomato, chicken, stock and dried oregano. Cover and bake in a moderate oven for about 1 hour or until the chicken is tender. Alternatively the dish can be slow cooked using the instructions applicable to your cooker.
Place a serving of rice on the serving dishes and top with the chicken casserole mixture. Sprinkle with fresh oregano and serve with steamed vegetables.
500g (1 pound) chuck steak or skirt steak
1 cup (250ml) beef stock
1 onion, sliced and quartered
1 (400g) tin diced tomatoes with juice
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 fresh jalapeno, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon rice bran or grape seed oil
Heat the oil in a heavy base frying pan or a flameproof casserole dish over moderate heat, and brown the pieces on all sides. Remove from pan keeping the juices and season to taste with pepper and salt. Add the ginger, garlic and jalapeno to the pan and sautee for about 2 minutes until tender, add the curry powder and fry for one or two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and juice and stir through. Place the onions in a layer in the bottom of your slow cooker and layer the browned beef on top. Transfer the mixture in the frying pan into the slow cooker and add the beef stock. Cover and cook for about 6 to 8 hours on a low setting (or use another time and heat setting).