Slow Cooking or Crockpot Recipes
Thom's Recipe File
Slow Cooking is Convenient
Opening the front door on a cold
winter evening and being greeted by the inviting smells of beef stew or
chicken noodle soup wafting from a
cooker can be a diner's dream come true. But winter is not the only time a
slow cooker is useful. In the summer, using this small appliance can avoid
introducing heat from a hot oven. At any time of year, a slow cooker can
make life a little more convenient because by planning ahead, you save time
later. And it takes less electricity to use a slow cooker rather than an
Thaw and Cut Up Ingredients
Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose
to make foods with a high moisture content such as chili, soup, stew or
Cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Do not use
the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the
food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial "Danger Zone,"
between 40 and 140 °F, too long. If using a commercially frozen slow cooker
meal, prepare according to manufacturer's instructions.
Use the Right Amount of Food
Fill cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full.
Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using
them, put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around sides of the
utensil. Then add meat and cover the food with liquid such as broth, water
or barbecue sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or
check for doneness.
Go Easy on the Juice
Because slow cookers work at low temperatures with lids on, there is hardly
any liquid lost during cooking. With most cooking methods, the water in
meats and vegetables turns to steam and evaporates. But with a slow cooker,
there's nowhere for the steam to go--it just collects on the lid and bastes
the food. So if you're inventing your own slow cooker recipes or adapting
your favorite stovetop and oven recipes for the slow cooker, decrease the
amount of liquid you use.
Is Browning Better?
You dont need to brown meat before cooking it in a slow cooker, but there
are advantages to searing meat on the stove first. If you coat meat with
flour and seasonings and sear it with a little oil in a hot skillet for a
few minutes, it can develop a more complex flavor and appetizing color than
it will in the crock. Always brown ground beef or any ground meat before
adding it to your slow cooker: otherwise, the meat will clump together,
remain an unappealing color, and add lots of grease to the finished product.
Whole spices such as bay leaves, peppercorns or cinnamon sticks will give
slow cooker items a very intense flavor if left in the pot for the entire
cooking time, so use them sparingly. Ground spices as well as fresh and
dried herbs, on the other hand, can lose much of their flavor if allowed to
simmer for several hours in the slow cooker. It's better to add these items
during the last two hours of cooking if you can manage it. Dairy products
such as milk, sour cream and cheese also do not hold up well to several
hours of simmering. To avoid curdling, wait until the last hour of cooking
time to stir in these items. Heavy cream can stand up to heavy cooking.
Sooner or Later
The slow cooker is one of the few cooking methods where you can cut the
cooking time by turning up the temperature and still get great results. Food
will not burn in a slow cooker because it retains moisture so well, and
because the heat is so evenly and gently distributed around the sides as
well as the bottom of the pot. If something takes 10 hours on the "low"
setting, you can safely cook it for 5 hours on the "high" setting with very
| Buy the biggest slow cooker you can get (e.g., a
six-quart), so you can make enough for leftovers. I freeze
leftovers in a plastic bag, then just dunk that in water to
defrost, or microwave. My favorite is the slow cooker that
Michael Graves did for Target. It's the cutest thing. Also, less
is more you don't need all the fancy programmable stuff.
Get your teenagers to use it this is a way to get them into
the kitchen. It's straightforward and safe.
Take the time to braise the meat ahead of time. It really
makes a difference; the food will be much more attractive and it
will taste better.
Don't put mushy stuff like rice on the bottom it'll become
more like porridge. Meats or vegetables are better on the
If you end up with more cooking liquid than you want at the
end, empty it into a saucepan and reduce it. Don't add salt
until the very end.
The marriage of the slow cooker and the immersion blender was
made in heaven. Put vegetables in a slow cooker, for example,
and just before serving, use the blender to purιe them right in
The slow cooker is a good place to make fillings for other
things, like pizza or calzones. Buy frozen pizza dough in the
supermarket and put in your homemade filling.
Any recipe that involves braising or stewing can be adapted to
the slow cooker. Be careful with fish, though, because it could
fall apart. Don't add as much liquid as a recipe calls for; try
cutting the liquid in half. And don't salt ahead of time.
Try cooking at night rather than letting it go all day. Then
you have the option of checking on it in the morning to see if
it's done. Once it cools, put it in the refrigerator, and when
you're ready to eat, heat it up it's actually better.