Slow CookerSlow Cookers are great time savers for anyone who enjoys a hot meal at the end of a busy day. Simply assemble your meal in the morning, or the night before, and forget about it until dinnertime. The fabulous aroma of home cooking fills your house and all you have to put together is a side dish, salad, or maybe some warm bread.
Choosing a Slow Cooker
- Be sure to choose one that is large enough to suit your needs. If you live alone or there are only two or three people to feed, a small to medium size will work fine. If it's family meals you'll be preparing, go for a larger one.
- Select a model with a removable ceramic bowl. Not only are they easier to clean, but also you can assemble your meals the night before and then pop the bowl into the cooker and turn it on.
Nutrition and Convenience
Because slow cookers cook foods slowly at a low temperature, it keeps all the vitamins and minerals intact. Plus because of the long cooking time, less expensive cuts of meat are tenderised and meats shrink less. So as well as being healthy, slow cooked meals are also less expensive, and best of all, the slow cooker can do all this while you're away from home.
Using Your Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are wonderful for recipes you would normally prepare on the stove top, such as soups, stews and pasta sauces etc. By preparing these types of things in the slow cooker, you free time to make other dishes or sides.
Always put vegetables in first. Vegetables take longer to cook in a slow cooker than meat does, so for layering purposes, start with vegetables, then meat, and finally seasonings and small amounts of liquid.
Pastas or instant rice should only be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, or as your recipe directs.
Avoid "peeking". While the urge to sneak a peek at the meal is tempting, you will add 20-30 minutes to your cooking time. Lifting the lid during cooking allows valuable heat to escape. Slow cookers are designed to do just what you would expect, cook slowly. Most recipes will call for cooking times of 8-10 hours on the low setting. If you simply do not have that much time, you can adjust your cooking time down by 2-3 hours and increase the temperature to high.
Slow Cooker Safety
The direct, intense heat, combined with the bacteria-killing steam created inside the tightly covered container, make the slow cooker a safe alternative to the risky process of cooking foods for extended periods at a very low temperature in a conventional oven.
Many consumers prefer the convenience of a slow cooker for preparing soups, stews and other favourites. These countertop appliances cook foods slowly at a low temperature, so vitamins and minerals are retained, less expensive cuts of meat are tenderised and meats shrink less. Best of all, the slow cooker can do all this while you're away from home. Electric slow cookers, properly used, are a great way to reap the benefits of long, slow cooking. The direct, intense heat, combined with the bacteria-killing steam created inside the tightly covered container, make the slow cooker a safe alternative to the risky process of cooking foods for extended periods at a very low temperature in a conventional oven.
- To qualify as a safe slow cooker, the appliance must be able to cook slowly enough for unattended cooking, yet fast enough to keep food above the danger zone (above 4°C-60°C). To determine if a slow cooker will heat to a safe temperature: Fill cooker with 2 litres of water. Heat on low for eight hours or desired cooking time. Check the water temperature with an accurate thermometer (quickly because the temperature drops 10-15°C when the lid is removed). The temperature of the water should be 85°C. Temperatures above this would indicate that a product cooked for eight hours without stirring would be overdone. Temperatures below this may indicate the cooker does not heat food high enough or fast enough to avoid potential food safety problems.
- Begin with a clean cooker, clean utensils and a clean work area.
- Wash hands, before and during food preparation.
- Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.
- If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator.
The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature. Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, will not get a "head start" during the first few hours of cooking.
Thaw and Cut Up Ingredients
- Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
- Choose to make foods with high moisture content such as soups, stews or pasta sauces.
- Cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking.
- Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial danger zone too long.
Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.
If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it is safe to cook foods on low the entire time, if you are leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited. While food is cooking and once it is done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.
If you are not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done. If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means. When you are at home, and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.
Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. However, cooked food can be brought to steaming on the stove or in a microwave and then put into a preheated slow cooker to keep hot for serving.
Oven to Slow Cooker Conversion
- It's difficult to give exact conversion information on translating traditional oven recipes to the slow cooker. Below you will find some general guidelines for converting your favourite recipes to the slow cooker. Since slow cookers vary, you should consult your owner's manual for instructions.
- Slow cookers may vary but generally, the LOW setting is about 95°-100°C, and the HIGH setting is about 150°C. One hour on HIGH is approximately equal to 2-2½ hours on LOW.
- Most slow cooker recipes recommend cooking 8 -10 hours on LOW. Some recipes recommend the HIGH setting based on the nature and texture of the food. You will have to judge your recipe accordingly. For example, beef cuts will be better cooked on LOW for 8-10 hours to get a more tender texture, where chicken can be cooked on HIGH 2-½ to 3 hours.
- Reduce the amount of liquid used in most oven recipes when using the LOW setting, since the slow cooker retains all moisture that usually evaporates when cooking in the oven. Add liquids for sauces about an hour before done. You will normally end up with more liquid at the end of cooking times, not less. A general rule is to reduce liquids by half, unless rice or pasta is in the dish.
- Spices may need to be reduced or increased. Whole herbs and spices increase their flavouring power in slow cooker cooking while ground spices may have lost some flavour. Add ground spices during the last hour of cooking. Whole leaf and herbs will probably need to be reduced by half.
- Rice, noodles, macaroni, seafood, Chinese vegetables and milk do not hold up well when cooked 8-10 hours. Add these to sauces or liquid about 2 hours before serving when using LOW setting (or 1 hour on HIGH). If you want to use milk in an 8-10 hour recipe, use evaporated milk.
- Browning meats before cooking is a personal choice. It's not necessary but it will reduce the fat content of some meat if you brown it before cooking.
- Sautéing vegetables (like onions, etc) is not necessary, (except for eggplant which should be parboiled or sautéed prior due to its strong flavour). Just add them to the pot with everything else. You may wish to reduce quantities of stronger vegetables since they will permeate the other foods in the slow cooker with their full flavour.
- Dry beans can be cooked overnight on LOW as an alternative to soaking. Cover with water and add 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Drain and combine with other ingredients. Be sure beans are softened before adding to any sugar or tomato mixture.
- For best results, use long-grain parboiled/converted raw rice in recipes, and use standard liquid amounts instead of reducing the liquid.
- For mixed recipes requiring pasta, it's best to cook the pasta separately to al dente texture and add just before serving.
- For soups, add water only to cover ingredients. If thinner soup is desired, more liquid can be added at the end of the cooking time.