Seven slow-cooker tips to take your winter cooking to the next level

The weather is cooling down, so in our house, that means the slow cooker is coming out.

There is nothing better than coming home after a long day to a curry already cooked, a stew good to go, or ribs on the run.

So what are some of the top tips to get the best out of your slow cooker? Here are some of our favourites.

In the beginning

Start with the right cuts of meat. Praise the cooking and budget gods, cheaper cuts of meat really benefit from slow cooking. Brisket, pork and lamb shoulder, stewing beef and chicken thighs work best in your slow cooker.

However, by its nature, unless you trim much of the fat off, be warned your dish could be soaking in oil. You can also minimise the fat factor by skimming it off as you go if you have the time.

Be prepared

You can also save time by prepping the night before. 

Cut up everything, put it in the dish and store it in the fridge overnight. It’s the work of seconds to just return it to the cooker and bung it on. 

Even better, cut up two sets of ingredients and put one set in the freezer for easy-peasy prep the next time. It may even give you a chance to fine-tune the recipe. Maybe you think the meat or onions were lacking in flavour, so you turn to your backup ingredients in the freezer and tweak them until the recipe works.

Or am I just describing my pedantic, weird, cooking obsession for you in far too much detail?

Don’t get carried away

It’s tempting to fill up that pot to the tippy top, but exercise restraint. A gentle boil is manageable in a half-filled pot, but if you are using the ‘quick’ option, a faster boil with a full pot will increase the chances of it sticking to the bottom or boiling over.

Take out the guesswork

Got a recipe that says three hours, but you want to cook it overnight? There’s a formula for that. 

A general rule of thumb Breville recommends: To go from “high” to “low” (or vice versa), multiply (or divide) the original time by 1.5 to 2.5 hours. These times are approximate.

Chop chop

You should be aware of the cooking times of your vegies and cut them up accordingly. This sounds complicated, but as a rule of thumb, vegies that will take longer to cook should be smaller than those that take a shorter time.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a good example. Potatoes take about twice as long as sweet potato to cook, so they should be half the size of the sweet potatoes.

And if you have the time, don’t be afraid to drop some vegies in during the cooking time. This is an excellent way to avoid squidgy, squishy veg from ruining your meal.

Liquid courage

You are not going to need as much liquid in a slow cooker recipe if you are reworking a normal recipe. As the lid is closed, liquid won’t evaporate. You can feel confident of reducing the amount of liquid from a normal recipe by a third.

Feeling saucy

The subset of the liquid not evaporating, is the sauce may not thicken. 

Try adding a thickener such as cornflour, or you can even use grated cheese or potato puree, depending on the dish. Be aware you will need about 30 minutes of cooking time for the dish to thicken.

If you are using a thickener such as cornflour, don’t just dump it into the pot, you will get lumps. We hate lumps.

Take out a small amount of liquid, about a quarter cup. Mix a couple of tablespoons of cornflour with some cold water and then add that slurry to the hot liquid, return it all to the pot and stir it around. 

Do you have any tried and true tips for slow cooking? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Also read: Dishes from the 70s that need to make a comeback

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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