Quick Tips to Convert Your Recipes into Slow-Cook Favorites
Use recipes for soups and stews that feature hearty beans or call for inexpensive cuts of meat
Who doesn't love coming home to dinner already prepared and ready to serve? Slow cookers are best friends to cooks in busy households. These handy appliances use minimal energy, turn less tender cuts of meat into delicious dishes with their gentle, moist heat, and are generally fail-safe as long as you follow a few basic guidelines.
While not all recipes adapt well to slow cooker preparation, these tips will show you how to modify plenty of stovetop soups and stews, and some casseroles and oven-roasted dishes, to prepare in a slow cooker.
Choose the Right Recipe
Use recipes for soups and stews that feature hearty beans or call for inexpensive cuts of meat that will become fork-tender during a long cooking period. Examples include beef chuck roast, beef brisket, stew meat, lamb and pork shoulder. Pasta casseroles are not ideal because the pasta will overcook and be mushy.
Trick #1: Whether you are a vegetarian or a meat-eater, pick your preferred protein and build the rest of the ingredients around this.
Success Lies in Layers
Even and thorough heat distribution is essential in a slow cooker to ensure ingredients cook evenly when layered in the cooking container. A slow cooker must be at least half full to ensure the food cooks through properly.
Trick #2: Dried beans may be cooked overnight in a slow cooker without cooking or soaking first.
Because very little evaporation occurs compared to stovetop cooking or oven roasting, it's not necessary to add as much liquid or stock to the dish.
Trick #3: If the results aren't quite perfect, keep notes on what worked and what didn't so you can keep tweaking.
In addition to layers, adding ingredients in the right order will ensure flavorful results.
To seal in flavor and give meats such as pork and lamb chops eye appeal, first brown the pieces in a hot skillet before placing them in the cooking container.
Trick #4: To avoid a greasy, unappetizing mess, always brown any ground meats in a skillet before adding them to a slow cooker.
Using slow cookers requires adapting typical seasoning amounts to accommodate longer cooking times.
Trick #5: Experiment to find groups of spices that work well together. For example, try some Italian-inspired dishes featuring basil, rosemary, and oregano, or add some Asian flavor with sesame oil, Thai basil, and lemongrass.
Anything cooked in a conventional oven can be cooked in a slow cooker. The actual time will vary between appliances, so experiment and take notes.
General conversion times for oven-baked, casserole-type recipes:
Cooking times for slow cooker recipes may be shortened with successful results by turning up the heat setting. Food will not burn in a slow cooker because the pot retains moisture so well, and because the heat is evenly and gently distributed around the interior.
Trick #6: If a recipe takes 10 hours on the "low" setting, turn the setting to "high" and cook 5 hours to achieve similar results.
Judith H. Dern, an independent writer and cookbook author, most recently of "Scandinavian Food & Cooking," loves coming home to the aromas of a ready-to-eat slow cooker dinner