How to get the most from your slow cooker

28 Jun 2018

It’s a luxury, being able to take the foot off the accelerator in this crazy busy world, but get friendly with your trusty slow cooker and you’ll be able to do just that. Here’s a handy guide to making slow cooking a breeze.

WORDS: Jessica Zoiti

I collected my son from a play date recently. His friend’s mother opened the door allowing a rich, spicy aroma to escape onto the porch. A busy marketing exec, she has three children under nine, including an infant, which she bounced subconsciously on her hip. How was it she was able to entertain her children, and mine, after a busy day and create what smelt like a mouth-watering meal at the same time?

“Oh, it’s easy,” she said, waving nonchalantly. “I’ve got dinner on in the slow cooker. In fact, it’s all I use these days. I whack it on in the morning and then forget about it until just before dinner time.”

It was a lightbulb moment. A solution to those late weekday sporting commitments that inevitably lead to uninspiring five-minute meals (read: snags and salad). Or worse. Leftovers (read: spag bog…again!). What I’ve since come to realise is that not only is a slow cooker an incredibly convenient appliance (note: you can also slow cook in your oven or on a stovetop if you don’t own a slow cooker), it’s also capable of turning those cheap, tough cuts of meat (like shoulder or skirt) into melt-in-your-mouth masterpieces.

Here’s a collection of tips and tricks to get extra flavour from your slow-cooked meals.

 

Pre-heat your cooker and meanwhile, brown your meat

While your slow cooker is heating up, use the time to brown your meat on the stovetop. You can use the browned liquid and little bits of caramelised meat from the pan to deglaze the base of your slow cooker. This gives the final meal a richer, more intense flavour.

 

Use oil to poach delicate or lean proteins

By far the best proteins to use in your slow cooker are tough, fatty cuts like chuck roasts, and shoulders. These are the meats that actually improve over time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play with more delicate proteins like chicken or fish.

To get the most out of slow-cooked chicken, and even tuna, is to gently poach it in a flavourful oil. Gently heat the oil with some garlic and herbs during the day, slip your meat in when your home and it’ll be velvety, juicy and dense, and not greasy like you may expect.

 

Sautee your base ingredients beforehand (like spices and aromatics)

Many slow cooker recipes instruct you to simply dice, then throw all your ingredients into the pan. Take a little extra time to sauté your aromatics (like onions, garlic, carrot, ginger and spices) and you’ll deepen the flavour of your final dish. By sautéing these ingredients, you’ll reduce the amount of moisture that goes into your slow cooker, break down fibres (in carrot, or ginger, for example), develop sweeter flavours (take onion, for example) and release the aroma and depth of flavour of any spices being used.

 

Don’t overfill the pot

Fill the pot more than is recommended by the manufacturer and you risk your meal not being cooked in time.

 

Keep a lid on it… until the very end

For food safety reasons, it’s important the temperature in your slow cooker is controlled and kept high enough to avoid meats from spoiling. So, keep the lip firmly on your pan throughout the slow-cooking period and then lift it so it’s ajar just slightly for the last hour. This will excess moisture to evaporate out leaving sauces richer and thicker.

 

Too much liquid? No drama

Simply decant the excess juice off into a separate pan. From here, you can either discard it, or I prefer to reduce it on the stovetop into a sauce or glaze to finish the dish.

 

Finish with stronger flavours

While the long, gentle cooking of your dish gives you a real depth of flavour, a common complaint about slow-cooked food is that it all tastes the same. This is because slow cookers mellow the flavour of your ingredients so they’re not so bitter and punchy (this can be a good thing, in the case of ingredients like onion and garlic).

Add extra zing to your dish by adding additional ingredients right before serving. Add a big squeeze of lemon, or tablespoon of zest to zingy dishes, or a handful of fresh herbs to aromatic dishes. Get creative with spicy pork dishes by finishing with kimchi, or a spicy chilli sauce. As long as you work with the dish’s flavour profile, the possibilities are endless.

 

Finish under the grill

Slow-cooked meals can tent to be a little soft or wet. If you’re looking for a crispier finish top you dish (slow-roasted chicken, for example), whack the meal under the grill for five minutes to give the surface extra colour and crunch.

 

Gingerbread is your new best friend REALLY!

I’ve saved the best tip for last because it truly is a doozie. Gingerbread, or ginger-based cookies, like gingersnaps, are incredible at enhancing the flavour of meat dishes like beef stew and pot roasts. It adds a sweet, ginger flavour to the sauce and gives the juices in the pan an incredible, sticky texture.

 

Want even more convenient dinner ideas? The Black Truffle sells a range of healthy, hearty home-style hot meals including casseroles, hot soups and a range of pastas. The menu changes daily – pop in to browse the selection.