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How do you save time and money slow cooking?
I’ve long been a fan of slow cooking – specifically in an electric slow-cooker. You put all the ingredients in the pot at the start of the day; leave them on a low setting, and when you get home from work – voila! It can take a little extra planning, but the results are delicious.
Also, it’s a great method of cooking CHEAPER cuts of meat – the only way, in fact, to make them tender and meltingly succulent. So I’ve been learning about Slow cookers such as the CrockPot (the brand I’ve had since the 70s!) and I’ve found a few tips, courtesy of mealsavers.co.uk and CrockPot.
Slow Cooking means:
Slow-Cooking saves energy on multiple kitchen appliances. You don’t have to switch on the hob, oven, grill and possibly microwave all for the same recipe – everything’s done in the one pot. It saves on washing up too. And CrockPot is proud to say it only uses the energy of a light bulb. Very green.
I think searing or browning meat (in a separate frying pan) adds flavour and makes the meat look caramelised, not just a stewed, soggy brown. It also kills bacteria on the meat, although these will die during cooking anyway. If it makes a difference, Jamie Oliver has tested his Beef Stew with and without searing and he’s now reported to cook all stews without.
Likewise, sautéing the vegetables with herbs and spices can add considerable flavour, but this is up to you or if the recipe suggests. You will, of course, then have an extra pan to wash up.
Tougher meats like roasts or brisket need extra cooking time as they have more connective tissue. To compensate, lower the heat and increase the cooking time (one hour on a high heat usually equals two hours on low heat).
Most hob or oven recipes require liquid to be added which reduces naturally during the cooking process. However, liquid doesn’t escape from slow cookers so use 50% less liquid to avoid a watery dish.
While red meats take longer to tenderise in a slow cooker, chicken cooks relatively quickly. Most poultry recipes require 5-6 hours on a low heat.
Many root vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots, and parsnips) cook even slower than meats in a slow cooker. To ensure root vegetables are cooked thoroughly, cut them into small pieces no bigger than an inch across.
High-moisture vegetables (like leafy greens, peppers, peas, courgettes, and squash) can become soggy, so add them in for the final 15-30 minutes of slow cooking.
Each time the lid is removed from the slow cooker, it adds twenty minutes to the overall cooking time! So only lift the lid to add extra ingredients or check meat towards the end.
As with any type of cooking, there are certain ground rules to follow, particularly with meat in order to avoid food poisoning. Here are some top slow cooking safety tips:
Rather than slow cook a whole roast, cut it up into small pieces to speed up the cooking process. Never fill the pot more than two-thirds full.
Thaw frozen meat before placing it in the slow cooker. Also defrost vegetables so as not to reduce the overall temperature.
To prevent bacteria growth in meat.
I don’t know how much meat you can eat in one sitting but I am happy with about 150g. I was going to do one lamb shank EACH for this recipe until I saw how vast they were, and decided one between two would be fine, bearing in mind 2 of my guests were children. But if you need more meat, do one shank each. The shank is the part of the lamb’s leg just above the knee. It has lots of connective tissue but it becomes tender in this recipe.
Tip: You can lift the meat off the bones before serving or serve it bone-in (So we begin and end today’s blog with an innuendo).
Sarah Lockett’s new foodie book The Dish is out now (£9.95, Troubador, £8.96 on Amazon). She will be doing a Q&A and book-signing with her co-author Penny Isaacs on Sat 25th April at Borders flagship store at 203 Oxford St, London W1, from 1-2pm.