Everyone remembers their first time. The nervous excitement, the build up, the crushing disappointment. No, not that, their first slow cooker meal! You see, since getting mine and navigating my way through the first watery, flavourless attempts, I’ve become a bit evangelical about mine.
Maybe you’ve not bought yours yet, or you have but after the fourth watery stew you’ve left it to gather dust at the back of a cupboard, along with the fondue set and cupcake maker. Reader, I am here to tell you why you should give it a go this autumn.
Picture this, you’ve had a long day at work, meetings have overrun and Sandra from accounts forgot to get you that paperwork AGAIN. You leave work, it’s raining, you’re already late for the bus and then your umbrella breaks. You could set fire to the world and order a take-away but then you remember your slow cooker, filled with a delicious curry that you chucked on before you dashed out of the house this morning. Thursday has been saved!
“Hang on, Nic,” you cry, “I’ve got one of these things and it just turns out watery slop.” Okay I’m the first to admit it took me a few attempts to get it right but once I did, it was magical. I now use mine at least once a week, sometimes twice in the winter, so here are my top tips to avoid that dishwater effect.
Less is more
Unlike with conventional cooking, with a slow cooker the liquid you put in at the beginning doesn’t reduce down. Get too heavy handed, thinking you need to fill the crock to the brim with stock and you’ll end up with the aforementioned “dishwater”dinner, with your meat and veggies doing a flavourless backstroke.
Spice it up
Unlike with liquid, herbs and spices are where you can get heavy handed. Throw an extra bay leaf or cinnamon stick in, add an extra teaspoon of dried herbs and don’t be afraid to add some chopped fresh herbs at the end of the dish. I love finishing cooking a stew by stirring in a tablespoon of mustard.
It’s okay to be lazy
If you have time, by all means spend it browning the meat, softening your vegetables, and caramelising your onions. If like me, it’s a mad dash in the mornings, just chuck it all in as it is.
Whilst slow cooker lamb shanks are a thing of beauty, this is a great time to experiment with cheaper cuts and especially those in the reduced section! Think beer braised oxtail, brisket with onions and red wine, lamb neck curry or pulled pork shoulder. Beans, lentils and squashes are similarly perfectly at home with a long, slow braise.
Get a book but don’t be afraid to experiment
My go-to book for all things slow cooker is the excellent Slow Cooked by Miss South. Packed with everything from curries and stews, to jams and cakes – this is a go to for newbies and old hands alike. Similarly, some of my favourite recipes have been found whilst browsing Pinterest of all places. Just tap in slow cooker (or crock pot if you want to get all transatlantic in me) and the world is your oyster.