Buying a slow cooker is arguably the next best thing to employing a personal cook. In addition to eliminating that chaotic, 9-o’ clock rush to whip up something palatable for dinner, it produces those wonderful aromas that welcome you home after a long, tiring day at work. Also, it is extremely economical to use and offers a healthier, low-fat technique of cooking to produce healthy and heart-warming meals. And the best part is that it requires minimal amount of effort to use.
Here is a brief guide on learning how to use a slow cooker like a pro:
#1 Prepare the Recipe
The best crock-pot recipes out there require you to perform some basic prep work like chopping vegetables or stripping fat out of meat before dumping everything into the cooker vessel. If you have enough time, you will get an even more enhanced flavor in your final meal by searing the vegetables and browning the meat.
#2 Layer the Ingredients
Meat and poultry cook faster than vegetables. Hence, it’s best to place the vegetables in the bottom and around the sides of the cooker. You can then proceed to layer the thawed or sauteed meat on top. By rule of thumb, ground meat should be fully cooked before tossing it in the other ingredients to the cooker. Once the ingredients are added, fill the cooker with water till it’s half or three-quarters full.
#3 Use Less Liquid
Since your slow cooker will be sealed tightly with the lid, the liquid won’t be able to evaporate out, so if you are trying to optimize a standard recipe, it’s advisable to lower the liquid content by roughly a third. The liquid should be enough to just cover the rice and vegetables. Do not overfill the vessel or it may end up leaking out on the top and the food may fail to cook well.
#4 Put Back The Lid
The lid should fit tightly over the cooker vessel and there should be no gaps for the steam to escape. Slow cookers rely upon bringing your food up to a steady, stable temperature (typically around 210 degrees) and maintaining it there. If the lid isn’t sealed well, the cooker won’t perform as efficiently. In case your lid has fallen off a couple of times and has cracks or gaps, then just wrap a roll of aluminum foil all over the top to offer a snug fit and seal everything inside.
Since the liquid doesn’t reduce, it doesn’t thicken. So, you can roll the meat in a little bit of seasoned flour before tossing it into the slow cooker, or use some cornflour at the end after it’s cooked. To do the latter, you need to take one or two teaspoons of cornflour and mix it with cold water to make a thick paste of it. Then, stir this paste into the simmering contents of your cooker vessel and replace the lid.
#6 Use The Lowest Setting
Any expert will tell you that most dishes benefit from the lowest setting as the slow and gentle heat helps to bring out the maximum flavors over a longer period of time. And this also means that you don’t need to worry about canceling your day plans in order to make a large batch of wholesome meals for a family get-together in the evening. This little trick means the meals will take care of themselves as long as you leave them in the lowest setting possible. It’s essentially like a cook fairy making your dinner while you go about your activities.
#7 Set the Cooking Time
The setting you choose dictates how fast the slow cooker gets to the temperature. The cooking temperature is about 210 degrees, and is the same on all time settings. The lower settings (i.e. around 8-10 hour times) heat food gradually and gently, whereas the higher settings (i.e. around 4-6 hour times) heat it a lot more quickly.
If you’re still not sure how long to cook your meals, follow the list below:
-If the dish takes roughly 15-30 minutes, cook it through for 1 to 2 hours on high setting, or for 4 to 6 hours on low setting
-If the dish takes between 15-30 minutes, cook it through for 2-3 hours on high setting, or 5 to 7 hours on low setting
-For a dish that takes around 1 to 2 hours, cook it for 4 hours on high, or 7-8 hours on low.
-And if the dish needs around 2-4 hours time, cook it for up to 6 hours on high setting, or up to 12 hours on low.
#8 Don’t Pay Heed to It
Crock pots are basically designed to do their job without anyone’s hindrance, so you don’t have to keep checking on the contents after every two minutes or so. Every time you take off the lid to glimpse at the meat or veggies, it will release a little of the heat, so when you keep doing this you will end up delaying the cooking process and increasing the cooking time by around 15 minutes.
#9 Adding Food
Ideally, you will want to choose recipes that instruct you to add most of the ingredients in the beginning, so that you are have enough free time to do other things and go about your day without having to make meals in the kitchen. However, in many cases, certain ingredients such as pasta, rice, as well as fresh herbs will have to be tossed in towards the end.
#10 End The Cooking Process
Slow cooker dishes, like any other dish, have to be eaten and stored within the safe time period, so ensure that you are around when the cooking cycle is completed. Most of the modern models tend to switch over automatically to a “warming” phase at the end of the cooking period if you are not present there. This helps to keep the foot hot enough so that it doesn’t get stale. However, the only downside of this feature is that it can overcook the food if it’s used for too long.
-Use a liner: Crock-pot liners are heat safe liners that works similar to an oven bag. You can use it to cook anything that has a sticky, sugary base like a tomato sauce, as sugar burns quite readily. Cheese is another item that burns quickly in the cooker.
-Use non-stick cooking spray: Spraying some non-stick cooking spray on your crock may not prevent your dish from getting burnt but it will help release any residues stuck from the bottom and sides of your crock if you do burn it. This facilitates easy cleaning.
With these few steps and tips, it won’t be long before you learn how to use a slow cooker like an expert. This is a smart and futuristic kitchen tool that takes the entire pressure off your back and whip up succulent, delectable meals that are ready by the time you come home from work.