For those of us who enjoy healthy food, but often lack the time to prepare nutritious meals, a Crock-Pot or slow cooker is a boon. Capable of cooking up delicious meals with minimum effort on your part, using less electricity than an oven, and being easy to clean, slow cookers are wildly popular in American homes. But using one is not as simple as tossing in ingredients and expecting to find a lovely, home-cooked meal.
With a little bit of smart preparation and some helpful tips to guide you, you can make the best of your Crock-Pot.
Things To Remember
- Always thaw frozen food before cooking in a slow cooker.
- Only fill up the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full. Any more than that, and the food may not cook thoroughly; any less, and the food may cook too quickly.
- Cook ground beef in a skillet before adding to the slow cooker.
- Add tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and zucchini, only during the last 45 minutes of cooking to avoid mushiness.
- Root vegetables can take longer than meat and other vegetables, so put these near the heat source, at the bottom of the pot.
- Add spices and seasonings during the last hour of cooking for better flavor.
- Use the low setting as much as possible, to bring out the flavors better.
- Feel free to use cheaper cuts of meat like brisket, shoulder or thighs, as slow cooking extracts all the flavors. You will save money and eat healthier, since these cuts typically have less fat.
- If you want a thick sauce when cooking meat, roll the meat in a small amount of seasoned flour before adding it to the slow cooker. If you’re cooking vegetables, just make a paste of some cornflour and cold water, and stir this into your simmering slow cooker contents before you place the lid.
- Before cooking kidney beans, broad beans or fava beans, soak overnight, discard the water and boil for at least 10 minutes before throwing into the slow cooker, to destroy toxins.
What Not To Do
- Don’t lift the lid too often: Every time you take off the lid, you extend the cooking time by 20-30 minutes. Slow cookers are designed to do their own thing, so you don’t need to keep checking the contents.
- Don’t use it only in the winter: Though we might associate warm, hot meals with wintertime, the beauty of slow cookers is that you can use them any time of year. The perk of using one in the summer is that it eliminates the need to use the oven, thus avoiding the discomfort of making an already hot home, hotter.
- Don’t use fat: Since you don’t need to add oil to a slow cooker, because the contents won’t catch (as long as there’s enough moisture in there), you don’t need a lot of fat on your meat either. Normally when you fry meat, a lot of the fat drains away, this won’t happen in a slow cooker so trim it off, otherwise you might find you have pools of oil in your stew. This will give you a healthier result, and it will still be tasty.
- Don’t add extra moisture: Your slow cooker will have a tightly sealed lid, which means the liquid won’t evaporate. If you’re adapting a standard recipe, it’s best to reduce the liquid by roughly a third, so that the liquid just covers the meat or vegetables.
- Don’t stuff your slow cooker: Overfilling your slow cooker may cause it to start leaking out the top, and your food won’t cook as well. Half to two thirds full is ideal, and certainly no more than three quarters.
The right way to use a slow cooker if you’re short on time in the morning, is to prepare everything you need the night before, put it into the slow cooker dish, cover and store in the fridge overnight. When you get it out of the fridge, allow the cooker to come to room temperature for 20 minutes before turning it on. Here’s to healthy meals for the whole family.