Slow Cooker basic
Slow Cooker basic
The basic principle behind the slow cooker is that it cooks food very slowly at a low temperature. The heat gradually builds up and is then maintained at an even temperature throughout cooking to give perfect, tender result. Slow cookers are very simple and economical to use. They have a low wattage that consumes about the same amount of electricity as a light bulb, which makes them environmentally friendly as well.
Choosing a slow cooker:
There is a very wide selection of slow cookers available. They come in a range of sizes, shapes, colours and prices, and it is these factors that you will need to think about before you decide which type of slow cooker is right for you.
When slow cookers were first manufactured, the earthenware or ceramic pots were permanently fixed into the heat-resistant plastic or aluminium outer casing. While it is still possible to buy models made this way most modern version have a removable cooking pot that fits snugly into an inner metal casing. The heating elements are safely situated between the inner and outer casing. The newer style not only simplifies washing up, but allows the cooking pot to be lifted out and taken to the table as a serving dish. In addition, food can be browned in the oven or under the grill (broiler) without causing damage to the outer casing.
The heat-resistant lid may be made of toughened glass or ceramic. The former has the advantage of allowing you to monitor the food’s cooking progress without lifting off the lid and losing heat and moisture, although this may be hindered to some extent by steam and condensation gathering on the inside of the lid.
The range of designs and colours of slow cookers has increased in recent years. The original round-shaped rustic cream and brown design with ceramic lid is still available, but alongside it you will now find much more contemporary-looking white, stainless steel and brightly coloured model that will fit well in a bright, modern kitchen.
Slow cookers may be round or oval in shape. Round ones are superb for cooking casseroles, streaming desserts and cooking cakes in round tin (pans), while the oval version is better for pot roasted meats and for use with loaf tins (pans) and terrines.
The size of different slow cookers can vary enormously – from a small 600ml/ 1 pint/2/½ cup cooking pot to a huge 6.5 litre/ 11/¼ pint/ 26 ¼ cup one. Of all the sizes, the most popular size is probably 3.5 litres/6 pints/14 /¼ cups, which will enable you to cook a wide range of dishes and easily cater for four people. However, the smaller versions, intended for cooking just one or two portions at time, are a great asset for single people and couples and take up less space in the chicken. They are also perfect for making hot dips and fondues.
Above: oval-shaped slow cookers are perfect for cooking certain types of food,
such as pot roasted joints of meat, long, loaf-shaped terrines, and small whole fish
The cooking temperature and setting on slow cookers vary slightly from model to model. The most basic (but perfectly adequate) models have three setting: off, low and high. When the slow cooker is switched to low, the food will barely simmer, and at the highest setting it will cook at a simmer or oven boil.
Other models have an additional medium setting and some also have an auto setting. The auto setting is thermostatically controlled, so that the cooking temperature builds up to high, maintains it for a short time, then automatically switches to low to maintain the heat. It normally takes about an hour for the slow cooker to each the “high” temperature, but this depends on the quantity of food being cooked and its initial temperature.
Most slow cooker models also have a power indicator light that remains on constantly during cooking – although in a few models it may switch off to indicate that the optimum temperature has been reached, so check the instructions.
Using a new cooker:
Every model of low cooker varies slightly, so it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using. Even when using the same setting, some cookers will cook slower or faster than other. To cover all models of slow cooker, the recipes in this book offer a range of cooking times. Depending on whether your own model cooks more slowly or quickly, you will either need to use the longer or shorter timing, or somewhere in between. Once you have used your new cooker a few times, it will be easy to know at a glance need to use.
Some slow cookers need to be preheated on high for 15-20 minutes before cooking. However, always check the instructions first because some models heat up quickly, making this step unnecessary and the manufacturer may advise against heating the slow cooker when empty.
To preheat the slow cooker, place the empty cooking pot and lid in the slow cooker base and switch the temperature on to the high setting. While the slow cooker heats up, prepare the ingredients for the recipe.
Slow cooker care:
Always remove any labels and tags from a new slow cooker, then wash the ceramic cooking pot well in hot soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly.
After use, the slow cooker should be switched off before removing the ceramic cooking pot. If you don’t want to wash the pot immediately after serving the food, it can be filled with warm water and left to soak for as long as necessary. However, do not immerse the entire pot in water for long periods of time because the base is usually porous and soaking may damage the pot. Very few cooking pots are dishwasher-proof, but it is worth checking the manufacturer’s instructions; these should also inform you whether the cooking pot can be used on the stovetop or in the oven, microwave or freeze.
Never plunge the hot cooking pot into cold water immediately after use, or pour boiling water into an empty cold cooking pot. Subjecting it to a sudden change in temperature could cause it to crack. As with all electrical appliances, never immerse the outer casing in water or fill it with water. Nor should you use the metal inner casing without the ceramic cooking pot.
Scouring pads and abrasive cleaners will damage the outside of the cooker, so use a damp soapy cloth to clean it.
Avobe: smaller slow cookers intended for cooking just one
or two portions at a time are an asset for single people and couple
During cooking, the cooking pot and lid will become very hot, so always use oven gloves when handling. The outer casing may also become hot long cooking, so care should be taken when touching this, too.
The first few times you are use a slow cooker, you may notice a slight odour. This is caused by the burning off of manufacturing residues, which is normal, and will lessen and disappear after time. After several months, the glaze on the cooking pot may become crackled; the is common with glazed stoneware and will not affect the slow cooker’s efficiency.
Adapting your own recipes:
Conventional recipes can be adapted for cooking in a slow cooker. The easiest way to adapt a recipe is to find a similar one in this book and use it as a guide to adapt the original recipe. As a general rule, the liquid content of a dish cooked conventionally can be reduced by as much as half in a slow cooker. Check towards the end of cooking time and add more hot liquid if necessary.
Tops for success:
During cooking, steam will condense on the lid of the slow cooker, then slowly trickle back into the pot. This helps to form a seal around the lid, retaining heat, flavor and cooking smells. If possible, avoid lifting the lid during cooking because this will cause heat loss and lengthen the cooking time. Unless a recipe states otherwise, the slow cooker should be left undisturbed. There is no need to stir food frequently because the even cooking and low temperature help to prevent food from sticking or bubbling over. Should you need to lift the lid though, add an extra 15-20 minutes to the cooking time to make up for the heat lost.
Guide to cooking times:
you can often introduce some flexibility to the total cooking time by adjusting the temperature setting. certain foods, however, are only successful if cooked at the specified setting. cakes,for example, should always be cooked on high for the entire cooking time, and pot-roasted meats and egg-based recipe should usually be started on high (or auto) for the first hour of cooking, then reduced. for dishes such as soups and casseroles, the cooking time may be shortened or extended to suit your needs by cooking on a higher or lowwer setting. as a rough guide, the cooking time on high is just over half that on low.
Low Medium High
6-8 hours 4-6 hours 3-4 hours
8-10 hours 6-8 hours 5-6 hours
10-12 hours 8-10 hours 7-8 hours