Using a slow cooker for your family meals is a great way to save time and serve up a delicious dinner too. This method of cooking is also a healthy and low fat, requiring minimum effort. You can prepare most recipes in a slow cooker and meat in particular ends up moist and tasty whilst retaining all the flavour.
Importantly, slow cookers don’t have to be expensive to buy and once you make this investment, when it comes to meal preparation, you won’t look back.
Tips on Slow Cooker Recipes
The point about using a slow cooker is to make life easier so we recommend avoiding recipes that require a lot of pre-preparation. For many dishes, particularly soups and stews, you can literally just throw all the ingredients in. We do suggest cooking onions beforehand, as the flavour is better than when you put them in raw, but experiment both ways as you may find you prefer one. It can also be good to brown meat, particularly pork or chicken, to give it some colour, but again, this is not essential.
The great thing about using a slow cooker is that you can prepare everything the night before. Just pop it all in the slow-cooker, cover and store in the fridge overnight. Ideally the dish should be as close to room temperature as possible, so get it out of the fridge when you wake up and leave it for 20 minutes before turning the cooker on.
If you need to heat your dish beforehand, then put the ingredients in a different container and transfer them in the morning.
For most slow cooker models, it’s best to use the low setting as much as you can, as most dishes really benefit from a slow, gentle heat to really bring out the flavours. This also means you won’t need to worry if you’re heading out for the day as the cooking will take care of itself.
Slow cookers are designed to do their own thing, so you don’t need to keep checking the contents. Every time you take the lid off it will release some of the heat, so if you keep doing this you’ll have to increase the cooking time.
Ideally you want to choose recipes where most, if not all, of the ingredients can be added at the beginning, leaving you free to do other things. However, in most cases, pasta, rice and fresh herbs will need to be added towards the end.
Cooking Meat In Your Slow Cooker Meals
Slow cookers are great for cooking cheaper cuts like our beef brisket, pork shoulder, lamb shoulder and chicken legs or thighs. You can also use less meat, as slow cooking really extracts a meaty flavour that permeates the whole dish.
You don’t need to add oil to a slow cooker as the contents won’t catch as long as there’s enough moisture in there. You don’t need a lot of fat on your meat either. Normally when you fry meat, a lot of the fat drains away, but this won’t happen in a slow cooker so trim it off otherwise you might find you have pools of oil in your stew. Removing the fat will give you a healthier result, and it’ll still be tasty.
Because your slow cooker will have a tightly sealed lid, the liquid won’t evaporate so if you’re adapting a standard recipe, it’s best to reduce the liquid by roughly a third. It should just cover the meat and vegetables. Don’t overfill your slow cooker, or it may start leaking out the top, and the food won’t cook so well. Half to two-thirds full is ideal and certainly no more than three-quarters.
Just as the liquid doesn’t reduce, it also doesn’t thicken. You can roll meat in a small amount of seasoned flour before adding it to the slow cooker or use a little cornflour at the end. If you want to do the latter, take a teaspoon or two of cornflour and mix it to a paste with a little cold water. Stir into your simmering slow cooker contents, then replace the lid.
Length of time
Times for slow cooker recipes will vary according to the individual dish and the setting of the slow cooker. We’ve come up with some general guidelines to help you get the timing right. If a dish usually takes:
15 to 30 mins – cook it for 1-2 hours on High or 4-6 hours on Low
30 mins to 1 hour – cook it for 2-3 hours on High or 5-7 hours on Low
1 to 2 hours – cook it for 3-4 hours on High or 6-8 hours on Low
2 to 4 hours – cook it for 4-6 hours on High or 8-12 hours on Low
Root vegetables can take longer than meat and other vegetables so put these near the heat source, at the bottom of the pot.
Hugh Phillips Gower Butcher
Our experienced team of butcher at our Swansea Market stall can give you advice on which cuts of meat are great in a slow cooker recipe. And if time really is an issue for you, then you can even order the meat for your slow cooker from our online shop