Slow cooking has become increasingly popular over recent years due generally to people’s lifestyles as well as the availability of quality slow cookers. Another advantage of slow cooking is that you can use less expensive cuts of meat to achieve delicious and heart-warming stews and casseroles.
But the key to successful slow cooking is to ensure you add ingredients that will enhance the flavour and texture of the meat and vegetables included within your recipe.
To help you to prepare a range of delicious slow-cooker meals for your family this autumn, we’d love to share with you some of our secret tips to successful slow cooking.
Successful Slow Cooking Secrets
- Simmer slowly: In general the cuts of meat that lend themselves to slow-cooking are somewhat ‘tougher’ than prime cuts used for roasting and frying. This means that the meat has a higher concentration of connective tissue and the meat fibres are more resistant, because they come from the muscles that work hardest for the animal. The process of long slow cooking transforms these connective tissues into tender chewy pieces, whilst loosening the fibres, making the meat softer and more tender. The slower the simmer, the more delicious the meat, which is not broken down altogether, retaining moisture to give a tasty and juice meal.
- Add vegetables for flavour: the classic three vegetables we always recommend for a stew or casserole are onions, carrots and celery. Onion is essential for natural sweetness, while carrots bring subtle non-offensive flavour, with celery rounding off the other flavours in a stew like nothing else. Other recommendations which work well include leeks, parsnips, turnips, squach and mushrooms according to different recipes.
- Essential stock: the best way to add body and flavour to slow-cooked dishes is stock. Ideally the stock should be made from bones, or if you don’t have freshly made stock, there are many good pre-made stocks on the market in a range of flavours.
- Stir it up: in any stew or casserole the fat will naturally go into the sauce as it simmers, and some will work into the meat. A gentle stir now and again, from the top to bottom rather than the edges, will help redistribute fat that rises to the surface. If there is excess fat, we do recommend skimming it off from the surface at the end of cooking, as during the cooking fat will add additional flavour.
- Rest is good: If possible, the best stews and casseroles are made a day or two in advance of being served. This helps bring out the flavours in the dish, as the meat reabsorbs the liquid. If you don’t have time to do this, it’s still a good idea to let slow cooked meat or stew rest for half an hour to an hour before serving. Along with the meat relaxing and reabsorbing, it will also bring the stew down to a temperature below scalding, meaning everyone will enjoy it more.
Recommended Meats for Slow Cooking
As mentioned, many cuts of meat are suitable for slow cooking, including cheaper cuts. Our favourites for slow cooking include:
- Chicken fillets: these hold up very well when it comes to slow cooking. You can brown them first in a frying pan if you wish, and then put them into the slow cooker or a shallow braising dish. You don’t even need to brown them first; it all depends on the recipe. In the slow cooker, they are best on high for four hours, but can take the lower longer setting if needs must. Cooked whole in this way they remain succulent and full of flavour.
- Diced beef: diced beef will cook slowly down to a mouth-wateringly melting stew. You can toss it in flour and brown in a frying pan first, or skip the browning and thicken later. You can go classic with beef in red wine or stew and dumplings or spice things up with a range of herbs and spices.
- Rolled collar of pork: this cut is not only ideal to make a stew or casserole but it also great if you’re planning a pulled pork dish. Rolled collar of pork is a soft dark meat, with plenty of fat for moisture and will just fall apart in your fingertips. Give the joint a sticky spice rub, or simply add an inch of water, a whole onion, and a bay leaf. Cook in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours for the best results.
- Diced lamb: lamb is a soft, moist meat and our diced lamb is perfect for slow cooked stews. Try a classic Lancashire hotpot, or a tomato based Greek stew with butter beans and topped with feta cheese.
Hugh Phillips Gower Butcher
We hope you found our slow cooking secrets helpful and that you’ll try them out on your family this week.
Our butcher’s shop in Swansea market offers a complete range of cuts ideal for all recipes including slow cooking. Pop in and ask one of our butchers for their advice or alternatively, you can order any of these cuts from our online shop