The premise of a slow cooker is that it cooks food at an extremely low temperature for an extended period.
Heat will gradually build up and it’s then maintained throughout the cooking process at an even temperature. The result is perfectly cooked and exceptionally tender food.
As well as the quality of the food, slow cookers are both economical and simple to use. Since they only consume about the same amount of energy as a light bulb, you can also protect the environment.
How To Choose A Slow Cooker
There’s a vast selection of slow cookers at your disposal in all shapes and sizes and at varying price points.
The first slow cookers were made of ceramic or earthenware. The pots were fixed into the casing so that they could not be moved. Although you can still acquire models like this, the majority of modern slow cookers have a pot which is removable and which fits neatly into an inner casing made from metal.
Heating elements are located between the two casings, inner and outer. This new style of slow cooker not only helps with the task of washing up but means that the cooking pot can double up as a serving tray. You can also brown food under the grill or in the oven while avoiding any damage to the outer casing.
Usually, the lid is made from ceramic or toughened glass and it’s obviously heat resistant. One clear-cut advantage of the glass variety is that you can check out how your food is coming along without needing to lift the lid and releasing heat or moisture. Steam can make this tough going at times but it’s generally possible to monitor progress.
As with most products, design has changed radically over the years. You can still get hold of the original rustic style with a ceramic lid finished in cream and brown. In addition, there are more contemporary offerings in stainless steel, white or bright colors that work well in modern kitchens.
You can buy slow cookers in oval or round shapes. If you pot roast meats or use loaf tins then oval works best. Round cookers are best for casseroles, cakes and desserts.
They range in size from 600ml to 6.5 liters. The most popular one is around 3.5 liters. This will enable you to prepare a good range of dishes for up to four people at a time.
Most slow cookers have three settings:
Low translates to your food hardly even simmering.
Some types come equipped with a Medium setting while others have Auto functionality. This controls the output thermostatically meaning it takes about an hour to climb to High then switches to low automatically.
With some slow cookers you will need to pre-heat them on High for around 15 minutes before getting started.
Check your instruction manual because with certain models this is not necessary. They heat very rapidly thus rendering this stage pointless.
If you need to pre-heat then simply pop the empty cooking pot and lid into the base then flick it to High. Use this time to prepare your ingredients then you’re good to go.
Slow Cooker Care
Make sure the you take off any tags or labels before washing your slow cooker in hot water and plenty of soap. Rinse it well and dry thoroughly.
Switch off the cooker after use before taking out the ceramic pot. Often you might not want to wash up directly after using it so fill the pot with warm water and allow it to soak for as long as you want.
Take care, though, not to get the whole pot into water for extended periods. Usually the base is porous so if you soak it too much it could cause damage to the pot.
Do not plunge your slow cooker into cold water directly after use. Such a sudden and drastic change in temperature could result in a crack forming. Don’t put the outer casing into water either nor fill it with water.
Avoid using the inner metal casing without the cooking pot.
Use a damp cloth in place of scouring pads or abrasive types of cleaner to prevent damage to the cooker.
Because the lid and the cooking pot become so hot during cooking, always wear oven gloves.
There is a degree of flexibility with regard to cooking times but, as a general guide, refer to this comparison between the three settings:
|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|
You should note that certain foods must be cooked in line with the specified timings. With cakes, for example, you need to cook them on High for the duration of the process. Egg-based dishes or pot roasts should be given an hour on High then reduced to low for the remaining time.
Normally, the cooking time on low is roughly double that when it’s on High.
Handy Hints For Success
While you are cooking, the steam condenses on the cooker’s lid. This will then trickle inside the pot. In this way a seal is formed which helps the heat to be retained.
Try not to lift the lid while cooking because heat will quickly seep out and you’ll need to extend the time to compensate for this heat loss. In the event of lifting up the lid then tack on perhaps 15-20 minutes. Only disturb the slow cooker if the recipe explicitly calls for this.
There’s absolutely no need to stir the food frequently due to the low temperature and even cooking. This means that the food should not stick or bubble over.
If your food is not quite ready when the time is up then replace the lid and turn it to High to speed up the procedure.
Once your food is ready, it will happily sit for around an hour on Low with no risk of spoiling.
While at first glance a slow cooker might seem the polar opposite of a microwave, the two are really quite closely related.
They are both time-saving appliances which are also extremely convenient and every modern kitchen should have one of each.