July 26, 2012
Beyond beef stroganoff ... slow cookers can be used for a wide variety of dishes.
When one thinks of slow cookers, rich beef stews come to mind, but there is more to these nifty contraptions than the ability to produce goulash and stroganoff.
They are also great for curries, soups and even dumplings, says Sally Wise, author of the book Slow Cooker 2.
Here's how to get the most out of your slow cooker.
Q. ASIDE FROM WINTRY STEWS, WHAT ELSE CAN WE COOK IN SLOW COOKERS?
A. They are marvellous for soups of course, but also make excellent bread, cakes and desserts, even preserves. They are also ideal for cooking seafood.
Q. FOR HOME COOKS WHO HAVE NEVER USED A SLOW COOKER BEFORE, HOW EASY IS IT AND WHAT SHOULD THEY KNOW BEFOREHAND?
A. The slow cooker is simplicity itself. For most dishes you just need to place the ingredients in the cooker and then set and forget. A few hours later you have dinner, lunch, whatever dish you'd decided upon, ready to go.
You need to think about the size you need. For a family of four to six, a 3.5 to 4.5-litre (meal) is generally ample.
If you want to make huge amounts of soup or a casserole-style dish for a crowd, then the larger capacity cookers have their place but are usually too large for everyday use for most families.
Q. WHAT CUTS OF MEAT WE SHOULD BUY AND HOW LONG SHOULD WE COOK RED MEAT FOR SO THAT IT FALLS APART IN OUR MOUTHS?
A. A slow cooker is excellent for using cheaper cuts of meat that break down to melt-in-the-mouth texture.
I like to use cuts such as chuck, blade, topside, diced stewing steak (as it's sometimes marked).
You will need to cook the meat on high for five hours or on low for 10 to 11 hours.
If you are cooking a large cut of meat, for instance for a pot roast or even a leg of lamb or pork roast, the time needed will be up to six hours on high or 11 to 12 hours on low.
Q. CAN WE LEAVE SLOW COOKERS ON WHEN WE LEAVE THE HOUSE?
A. Yes, slow cookers are designed to meet strict safety standards.
Q. WHAT ARE THE BASIC RULES FOR THOSE OF US STARTING OUT?
A. It's important to know that if you are converting one of your family-favourite recipes for the slow cooker, you need to reduce the liquid to approximately one cup.
Also, if a conventional recipe requires 15 to 30 minutes cooking time, then set the slow cooker on either high for one-and-a-half to two hours, or low for four to seven hours.
Q. WHAT ARE SOME OTHER TIPS YOU CAN SHARE?
A. There is no need to stir during cooking. It's best not to remove the lid as each time you do, heat is lost and the seal broken, adding considerably to cooking time.
Don't overfill the cooker - half to three quarters full is best. There needs to be space so the seal that forms by steam with the lid and the base can form effectively.
It's not recommended to re-heat leftovers in a slow cooker. Always defrost foods before adding to the slow cooker - don't use the slow cooker to defrost.
It's also best to use fresh herbs rather than dried, or a combination of the two.
As with all types of cooking, taste test before serving. If extra flavour is needed in savoury dishes, try adding a little soy, Worcestershire, sweet chilli sauce or chutney.
Dairy products are best added during the last half hour of cooking time.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE WINTER DISH TO CREATE IN A SLOW COOKER?
A. Thai chicken curry with coriander rice dumplings, and lemon marshmallow meringue pudding.
Q. HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT SLOW COOKER TO BUY?
A. There are many types of slow cookers on the market with various functions. For instance, there is at least one brand with which the insert can be placed on the stove top to sear or brown the meat before adding the rest of the ingredients, and the insert then placed back in the cooker for slow cooking purposes. Some models also have a timer.
While these features are a bonus, you correspondingly pay a higher price. None of my slow cookers (I have seven) have the features mentioned above, but I do like to have slow cookers that have high, low and 'keep warm' settings and the price for such cookers is minimal.
The 'keep warm' setting means that once the food is cooked it can be kept at a safe temperature so that when members of the family come in at staggered times the food is still in its prime.
As for the browning of the meat, this step can be eliminated from all recipes without any sacrifice of flavour.
Serves 4 (for a 3.5-4.5 litre slow cooker)
4-5 cooking apples (such as Granny Smiths)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
250g seedless red or green grapes
3/4 cup white wine (such as chardonnay or riesling)
1 tsp rosewater
3 tsp honey
1.5 tsp butter, diced
1. Peel and core the apples, then cut a ring around the 'equator' of each apple to a depth of approximately 6mm (this helps to keep the apples in shape). Place in the slow cooker.
2. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle into the cavities of the apples. Fill the remaining space with the whole grapes. Scatter the rest of the grapes around the apples and pour over the combined white wine and rosewater. Distribute the honey over the top of the apple centres, then dot the pieces of butter on top.
3. Place the lid on the cooker and cook for 2.5-3 hours on high or 5-6 hours on low until the apples are tender.
4. Serve with mascarpone, sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.
*Slow Cooker 2 by Sally Wise is published by ABC Books, rrp $24.99