The slow cooker is one of those much-maligned kitchen items. You buy it, or some kind soul buys one for you, thinking you’ll save time and effort in your already busy life. Next thing you know, it’s gathering dust following one too many “dish water” dinners, with your precious meat and two veg swimming in a sea of flavourless grey liquid.
Just recently, a viral recipe for a cooked english breakfast has made worldwide headlines whilst the idea of slow living is taking off like the hygge craze of just a few years ago. A slow cooker then is not only the rage, but it can open up a world of possibilities for you and your family, and let you really enjoy your kitchen for other family activities.
With just a few simple tricks, you can turn your mid-week dinners into a marvel, saving yourself time and your sanity on those hectic days when your meetings overrun, the train is late and your kids have ballet and football at opposite ends of town.
Here’s how to get the best out of yours.
Less is more
Unlike with conventional cooking, with a slow cooker the liquid you put in at the beginning doesn’t reduce. Get too heavy handed, thinking you need to fill the crock to the brim with stock and you’ll end up with the aforementioned “dish water” dinner. Try using a cup or two of stock, or perhaps jazz things up with a glass of wine.
Spice it up
Unlike with liquid, herbs and spices are where you can really let loose. Throw an extra bay leaf or cinnamon stick in, add an extra teaspoon of dried herbs and don’t be afraid to add some chopped fresh herbs or a tablespoon of mustard at the end of the dish.
It’s okay to be lazy
If you have time, by all means spend it browning the meat, softening your vegetables, and caramelising your onions. But on morning’s when you’re running late, just throw everything in and switch it on low. It’ll be fine!
Your slow cooker is a great time to experiment with cheaper cuts and ingredients, especially those in the reduced section! Think beer braised oxtail, brisket with onions and red wine, lamb neck curry or pulled pork shoulder. Veggie or vegan? Beans, lentils and squashes are similarly perfectly at home with a long, slow braise.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
There are lots of cook books on the market for those in need of inspiration but don’t be afraid to adapt your family favourites (just use less liquid and amp up the seasoning) or browse the web for ideas. Just tap in slow cooker recipes (or ‘crock pot’ if you want to get all transatlantic in me) into the search engine and the world is your oyster.