Not only does the slow cooker preserve nutrients due to the slow and low cooking method but having all ingredients in a sealed unit means minimal loss of nutrients as well. It’s cheaper because you can use off cuts and cheaper cuts of meats (as well as less perfect looking vegetables) and it’s more economical than having the oven on.
I didn’t have a slow cooker until a few years ago and after I cooked my first meal in it I was hooked! There’s no fancy tricks to it, you literally can just chuck all your ingredients in, turn it on, go about your day and have a delicious meal ready for you at dinner time. However I know it sounds daunting and it seems like there must be some calculations to get right for timing, liquid ratios, browning off etc. so here is everything I think you need to know for Slow Cooking!
*when starting off follow a few specific slow cooker recipe and then once you’ve got the hang of it use the below information to convert all kinds of recipes to the slow cooker.
The best meats to use: BEEF: mince, ribs, chuck, gravy, blade, topside, brisket, silverside, skirt. LAMB: mince, ribs, shoulder, leg, forequarter, shank, neck. CHICKEN: whole, mince, thigh and drumstick. PORK: mince, ribs, belly, shoulder, forequarter and neck. VEAL: ossu bucco. FISH & SEAFOOD: prawns, fillets, whole fish. Meat with the bone in is best but not essential.
The best vegetables to use: all and every! Root vegetables and starchy vegetables can be added from the beginning of cooking time (ie. sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin) and are best based at the bottom of the slow cooker. Broccoli, cauliflower etc can also be added at the beginning or half way through if you prefer the texture not as soft (best to place these closer to the lid). For leafy greens and finely chopped frozen veggies you can add them in the last 20 minutes.
Beans and legumes: it’s best to boil dried beans for 10 minutes before using to reduce anti-nutrients (lentils don’t need this). Canned legumes and beans are fine to use as is.
Grains: Grains absorb a lot of liquid so I don’t use them often when making up my own recipes however I have read that you should add an extra 2 cups of liquid if you do add grains. If I want grains with my meal I often use pre-cooked grains just added at the end (I keep portions of home cooked grains in my freezer or you can buy them pre-cooked too.)
Using alcohol: If using alcohol or liquors, leave the lid off for a few minutes so the evaporation will reduce the harsh taste.
Browning: some recipes will say to brown meats and other ingredients first to seal in flavour (this is a good idea but not 100% necessary if you are stuck for time). Some slow cookers actually have browning functions which is great as less dishes to clean!
Prepping: I like to cut all of my ingredients the night before and sometimes even place it all in the slow cooker insert in and keep the whole thing in the fridge overnight so the next morning all you do is insert it and turn it on. If your insert is ceramic just let it come to room temperature first or it may crack with the change in temperature (I don’t do this and haven’t had an issue but it’s a good idea just in case :P). It’s best to cut vegetables all in a similar size for even cooking. It’s also best not to overfill the slow cooker for even cooking also so 1/2 to 3/4 full is plenty.
Safety: Always thaw meat fully before using. Try not to lift the lid during cooking as it will reduce the temperature. Once ready, don’t leave food to cool in the slow cooker as it will not cool quick enough to avoid bacteria growing. Likewise, don’t reheat food in the slow cooker as it doesn’t reach a high enough temperature quick enough to avoid the growth of bacteria.
When converting recipes to the slow cooker:
Liquid when converting recipes to the slow cooker:
Reduce the amount of liquid the original recipe calls for by 40-50%.
If the recipe does not include liquid or sauce of any kind, add 1/2 cup of water or stock.
At the end of cooking, if there seems to be too much liquid, remove the lid and turn the pot up to high for the final hour. Or try stirring in some corn starch (mixed into cold water), arrowroot flour (mixed into cold water), tomato paste, cream, sour cream, shredded cheese, ground nuts or mashed beans to thicken.
My favourite slow cooked recipe is my Turmeric Chicken Curry and a slow cooked lamb shoulder is another which I have put the recipe for below:
Slow Cooked Moroccan Lamb Shoulder:
1 x lamb shoulder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup bone broth or stock
Combine the spices and oil and rub over the lamb coating well. Place in the slow cooker with the broth and cook on low for 8 hours. Serve with your choice of salad, grains, legumes (I like to have with roast cauliflower, rocket, hummus and fetta).
I’d love to see what you create with your slow cookers and I’m always up for swapping recipes to hit me up on socials so we can connect!