You may be hesitant to use a slow cooker thinking that it makes mushy flavorless food, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is possible to make flavor-driven food in a slow cooker, and it will save you a ton of time and aggravation in the kitchen. Ten minutes in the morning could save you an hour after work with these basic slow cooker tips to maximize your efficiency in the kitchen without sacrificing taste.
Basic Slow Cooker Tips for Magical Meals
- Searing is key. When cooking a beef or pork roast in a slow cooker, searing the meat first is a necessary step. If you’ve tried slow cooking meats before and found them lacking in flavor, it’s most likely because you didn’t brown the meat first.
- Avoid lean cuts of meat. Lean cuts are okay for other cooking methods, but when slow cooking it is best to use fattier cuts of meat. Lean meats can lose flavor and become stringy. Plus, fattier cuts tend to be cheaper, which is better for your budget too.
- Avoid cooking frozen foods. Thaw foods first before adding it the slow cooker--especially meats. Not only can it impact the flavor, but adding frozen meat may be unsafe since it will lower the cooking temperature below safe levels.
- Fill it up. Whether you are cooking a meat or a vegetarian dish, you must make sure to add enough liquid. Whatever you are cooking--beans or a chuck roast--it should be completely submerged. Anything left out the liquid may dry out, or worse, not be adequately cooked. But be careful about overfilling too, as that can create one heck of a mess as well as potentially unsafe. Following the guidelines for your slow cooker is ideal.
- Use your knife skills. For best results, it is best to cut food into uniform sizes--just like you would if roasting or sauteing.
- Layer foods. Place denser and heartier vegetables on the bottom, then add the meat or beans, and top with more delicate vegetables and herbs towards the end of cooking.
- Add the liquid last.This might seem like a no-brainer, but add your ingredients first and then add the liquid. The other way around will make a mess and create a potential imbalance in the food to liquid ratio.
- Avoid adding some vegetables and herbs too soon. Depending on what you are cooking, adding some vegetables and herbs too early in the cooking process will just make them mushy, and they may lose their flavor. Hearty root vegetables are generally okay to add early, but more delicate vegetables shouldn’t be added until the final 2 hours of cooking time, and herbs should wait until the final hour.
- Don’t overcook. Some cooks think that if a little bit of slow cooking is good, then a lot must be great. Not necessarily. Follow the cooking times in recipes and invest in a slow cooker with a timer.
- Do get the basics down first. There is beginning slow cookery and advanced slow cookery. Stick with the basics until you have mastered them, and then you can progress to more advanced recipes.
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Image: Slow Cooker via Shutterstock