Rediscover just how easy and delicious slow cooker meals can be. Walk in the door to the rich, enticing aroma of a slow-cooked dinner.
Because slow cookers work at low temperatures with lids on, there is hardly any liquid lost during cooking. With most cooking methods, the water in meats and vegetables turns to steam and evaporates. But with a slow cooker, there’s nowhere for the steam to go–it just collects on the lid and bastes the food. So if you’re inventing your own slow cooker recipes or adapting your favorite stovetop and oven recipes for the slow cooker, decrease the amount of liquid you use.
Is Browning Better?
You don’t need to brown meat before cooking it in a slow cooker, but there are advantages to searing meat on the stove first. If you coat meat with flour and seasonings and sear it with a little oil in a hot skillet for a few minutes, it can develop a more complex flavor and appetizing color than it will in the crock. Always brown ground beef or any ground meat before adding it to your slow cooker: otherwise, the meat will clump together, remain an unappealing color, and add lots of grease to the finished product.
Whole spices such as bay leaves, peppercorns or cinnamon sticks will give slow cooker items a very intense flavor if left in the pot for the entire cooking time, so use them sparingly. Ground spices as well as fresh and dried herbs, on the other hand, can lose much of their flavor if allowed to simmer for several hours in the slow cooker. It’s better to add these items during the last two hours of cooking if you can manage it.
Dairy products such as milk, sour cream and cheese also do not hold up well to several hours of simmering. To avoid curdling, wait until the last hour of cooking time to stir in these items. Heavy cream can stand up to heavy cooking.
Sooner or Later
The slow cooker is one of the few cooking methods where you can cut the cooking time by turning up the temperature and still get great results. Food will not burn in a slow cooker because it retains moisture so well, and because the heat is so evenly and gently distributed around the sides as well as the bottom of the pot. If something takes 10 hours on the “low” setting, you can safely cook it for 5 hours on the “high” setting with very similar results.