Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) Hints
Slow Cooking is Good Cooking!
Imagine walking in the door tonight and being stopped dead in your tracks by the rich, enticing aroma of what can only be dinner. You can't believe it -- someone has been home all day cooking for you! Then you remember -- that someone is your slow cooker. All you had to do last night was chop up some meat and veggies, and all you had to do this morning was toss them in that magical appliance and switch it on. Slow cooking is hip again! Dust off that pot and get ready to rediscover just how easy and delicious a slow cooker can make your life.
Go Easy on the Juice
Because slow cookers work at low heat and with their lids on, there is hardly any liquid lost during cooking. In fact, it may appear that you have even more liquid than you started with. That's because almost all food, especially meats and vegetables, contain water. As they cook, they begin to release their water. With most cooking methods, the water turns to steam and evaporates. But, since the lid is on the slow cooker, there's nowhere for the steam to go; it just collects on the lid and drips back into 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?
There is some debate over whether or not you need to brown meat before cooking it in a slow cooker. There are advantages to it, but it's not necessary. Tossing meat in flour and searing it with a little oil in a hot skillet for a few minutes will give it an appetizing color and a more complex flavor than simply tossing it raw into the crock, but either way, the meat will still cook. One type of meat that you should always brown in a skillet before adding it to the crock, though, is ground beef (or, for that matter, any ground meat). If you don't brown it first, it will clump together, remain an unappealing color and add lots of grease to the finished product.
Be Nice to the Spice
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.
Sooner or Later . . .
The slow cooker is one of the few cooking methods where you can cut the cooking time in half 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.
Whether you want dinner sooner or dinner later, try any of the wonderfully easy slow cooker recipes throughout the Allrecipes network: