Using a slow cooker encourages food to cook “slow and low” in a moist environment. The gentle simmer achieved by the slow cooker breaks down even the toughest of meats. In fact, the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat are actually better options for the slow cooker, as the tender, more expensive cuts will turn mushy when exposed to the long cook time. So don’t think of tough cuts of meat as bad, they are just different. They actually have more flavor and can be meltingly tender, if treated correctly. When selecting your meat, try a shoulder, leg, shank or ribs. Depending on your preference, you can use beef, pork, lamb, veal, venison, or wild boar. Rabbits and chickens also hold up well to the “slow and low” cooking.
Although dishes prepared in a slow cooker do have a long cook time, the process is almost entirely inactive, saving you time. Place all of the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, turn it on, and eat dinner 8 hours later. Your house will be filled with amazing aromas as all the flavors slowly marry together. Also, it is impossible to burn items in a slow cooker!
Don’t forget about the slow cooker when you are entertaining. They are perfect for keeping foods warm on a buffet line. Also, when planning large holiday meals that have your oven and stove-top packed, look to the slow cooker for another option.
For the slow cooker to work its magic, it depends on a flavorful liquid. Use stock, wine, beer or juice – or a combination. You can even use water if you have plenty of spices and aromatic vegetables in the pot as well. Liquids with an acid content, like wine, beer and juice, will also aid in breaking down the tough cuts of meat.
There is a wide range of dishes well suited for slow cooking: soup, chili, stew, sauce, ragout, pulled pork, braised short ribs, osso buco, and two classic French favorites: Beef Bourguignon and Coq au Vin. Anything that you would normally simmer on the stove top or in the oven, try it in a slow cooker, instead.
- Most slow cookers have multiple settings. Many dishes suited for the slow cooker can be cooked for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.
- When your dish is complete, but your sauce is still a little thin, remove the lid to your slow cooker and cook on high to allow the liquid to reduce a little and thicken.
- Add softer vegetables (like squash or canned beans) towards the end of the cooking process so they don’t become mushy. Also, to retain the potent flavor of herbs, add them towards the end, as well.
- To turn your slow simmer into a braise, sear the meat first in a skillet before adding to the slow cooker. This extra step will add depth of flavor to your final dish.