Slow-cooking can make coming home on a cold, dark winter's evening a warm and welcoming affair. Prepare and set up your slowcooker in the morning, then come home to a delicious meal 90% completed. With just a few timely additions you have a meal on the table that looks and tastes like you have been hard at work in the kitchen all day. The key to slow-cooking success is in selecting the right ingredients and flavours, taking some time to prep well and adding everything "just-so".
Here are Milly's top fine tips, so your slow-cooking meals are both hearty and delicious but also fresh and flavoursome every time.
1. Choose the right cuts and take time to prep
Slow cooking breaks down chuck roasts, brisket or pork shoulder for tender and tasty results, so you can slow cook these in-expensive cuts, with succulent results. For silky sauces and gravy, take the time to trim any excess fat and skin from your meat or poultry before adding it to your slow cooker, thus reducing oily or greasy residues.
Whether you decide to sear your meat first is really personal preference, it takes a bit more effort but can bring another dimension to your flavours, textures and caramelisation in the results.
2. Layer wisely
Don't forget that root vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, potato and onions will take longer to cook than most of your ingredients. To keep your cooking even, cut these slower cooking vegetables in to smaller, more uniform pieces and place them all at the bottom of your slow cooker, with your meat on top. Putting them closer to the heat source will guarantee an even cook and cover them in all the delicious juices.
In most cases, pasta, and rice are best added towards the end, as well as zucchini and tomatoes (unless you want them broken down for sauces). Green vegetables like beans and peas will lose their characteristic bright colour if slow-cooked too long, so save adding them till last.
3. Go easy on the liquid
With slow cooking the sealed lid holds any liquid in your meal, so you’re not losing moisture while cooking, don't be tempted to over-fill. If you're using a conventional recipe then you'll need to bring the liquid down by approx half. For easy thickening of your gravy you can dredge your meat in flour before cooking, or turn your slow-cooker up to high in the last hour and take the lid off.
4. No peeking.
Don’t be tempted to lift the lid while you’re slow-cooking, unless it is to add dumplings or additional ingredients, slow cookers will in fact generally have a glass lid to avoid this very temptation. Each time the lid is lifted, an extra 20-30minutes must be added onto the cooking time. This is because the steam from your slow cooking forms a seal and when it is broken, it needs to be reformed and you lose essential heat, which will then need to be redeveloped.
5. Get your flavours right and end on a high note
It's always best to end your dish on a bright note, some freshly cut herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of simmering, just brings another layer, texture and dimension to the meal. Other last minute additions that will bring some zing to your palate; hot sauce, citrus zest, grated parmesan, fruity chutneys, a drizzle of honey or even some freshly toasted seeds and nuts.