There is nothing better than coming home to the smell of a meltingly tender slow cooked casserole, particularly on dark nights after work. Stick a few green vegetables on when you come in – kale is apparently on the nations favourite list (sales up 54% in a recent grocery trade report) – and you’ve got a nutritious, balanced meal to tuck into.
As it’s National Slow Cooking Month (yes, really) we thought we’d share with you some tricks of the trade and top tips. With a slow cooker saving you both time and money, what’s not to love?
1) To brown or not to brown?
That is the question apparently – the long-running discussion surrounding whether meat should be browned off (or not, as the case may be) rages on. You only need to turn to Google to see pages of forum debates.
Those in the ‘to brown’ camp swear that slightly crisping or colouring the meat before adding the rest of the vegetables onto the slow burner adds flavour and depth the dish, as well as adding attractive colour to the meal. Queen of British Cooking, Deliah adds that browning “seals in the juices”.
Those that don’t bother are equally adamant it makes no difference to flavour as it’s cooked for such a long time that it doesn’t matter – the flavour is driven by the length of time the dish is cooked, the type of liquid added and what vegetables are added.
In summary it seems to be a good idea to sear off the meat if you have time and/or inclination, and it doesn’t really effect it if you don’t!
2) How long?
Is a piece of string? The longer the better, is the general consensus. Low and slow is the rule of thumb – however this does depend on the cut of the meat. Quality cubed steak or leaner cuts like chicken may take less time, even as little as a couple of hours. Sometimes over-cooking lean meat can even make it tougher! More ‘muscled’ meat with a good marbling of fat (and usually cheaper cuts) such as a shoulder or shin, will need more time – up to 4-6 in a slow cooker during the day.
Root vegetables such as carrot or swede will need to go at the bottom of the pot and for the longest amount of time as they will need more time to soften. Things like pasta, rice or fresh herbs could be added right the end of the cook when you get in from work – ideal for things like pilau
3) How much liquid?
And what kind? The rule of thumb is that you should put in as much liquid to just cover the meat & vegetables. The slow cooker has a tightly fitting lid so you don’t want to overfill it (causing a spill) and the steam from cooking will keep the dish full of moisture as it won’t evaporate. What you think is probably too little liquid for a 4-6 hour cook will be just perfect. Using plain water is also fine, but a good stock or, even better, a mixture of ale or wine with stock will bring out the best of those savoury flavours. Always add any dairy products such as cream towards the end or else they might curdle.
4) More than meat?!
Yes you can use your slow cooker for dishes that aren’t meat & veg based! They are also ideal for soups and curries. And for the more adventurous, Mumsnet forums are full of recipes for going one step further – Rice Puddings and Sponge Puddings are a favourite. We even found this recipe for a gluten free version – feel free to share your recipes with us too!
5) So how is this saving me money?
Use a slow cooker to use up any leftover bits and pieces in your vegetable drawer – ideal after the glut of Christmas or a big Sunday dinner, avoiding waste and sticking leftovers in the bin. You can make bigger batches with a slow cooker, so you can freeze portions for later. Alternatively you can bulk up the stews with cheaper vegetables to feed more people for less. Finally you’ll be able to buy much cheaper cuts of meat (brisket or shin is ideal) than you would for ‘fast’ cooking or stir-frying.
So dig out your slow cooker at the bottom of the cupboard and give it a whirl this weekend. Alternatively if you don’t have the time (or want a lazy, no fuss solution!) – just order ilumi’s Beef Casserole to achieve the same effect! We also love our Pork in Cider or Lamb in Gluten Free Ale.
Share your slow cooking recipes with us and you could feature in our ilumi Fan Recipe Book.