The first version of a slow cooker claimed its rightful place on grandmother's kitchen counter sometime during the 1950s; after over 75 years it hardly seems to have lost its place and popularity.
The mass appeal of the slow cooker lies in its ease of use, and versatility in making hot, delicious meals even for the busiest bunch. These days, a simple search for "slow cooker recipes" results in over 18 million hits on Google alone. With countless more fans on social media sites, it's no doubt that when used properly, your slow cooker can be one of the best appliances in the house. But with something so easy to use also come mistakes that are easy to make. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when championing the use of your slow cooker.
According to Today, one of the most important things to remember about the slow cooker is that the heat source is at the bottom alone. Layering food properly by putting ingredients that take longer to cook at the bottom and more delicate ingredients on the top, will ensure that food cooks evenly. For instance, meats, beans, lentils, and root vegetables should be placed first with string beans, peas, and other quick cooking vegetables on top. This also results in a texture that is not that of overcooked mush.
Browning meats seals in juices and gives it more flavor. This theory is no different when it comes to slow cooking. Simply sear the meat on a skillet before adding it to the slow cooker. Coating the meat with flour during the searing process also helps to thicken the sauce later, says the Gardening Cook. Also, make sure that the meat is submerged all the way to prevent drying or undercooking.
Use Correct Cut Of Meat
Going along with the theme above, using the correct cut of meat is also key to success. Fattier meat cuts like pork shoulder, short ribs, or flank steak work well because they cook low and slow. Lean cuts like pork tenderloin or chicken breasts can still be used but keep in mind that long cooking time can cause them to be stringy and tough. Chicken with skin on can also cause the final dish to be a rubbery nightmare.
Perhaps this goes without saying but not adding enough liquid can cause your dish to burn or remain uncooked. When cooking recipes with dry beans or lentils especially, make sure to add enough liquid per the package instructions.
The yin to the yang then is not to overfill the cooker - with liquid or with ingredients. Filling directly to the top can cause the food to steam rather than simmer, resulting in a longer cooking time and less flavor. Stop when roughly two-thirds full.
Don't Add Too Much Alcohol
When cooking on stove top, the heat is usually higher and therefore the alcohol in the wine, beer, or liquor added to the dish burns off easily in the open pot. In a slow cooker however, these liquids tend to just simmer under a closed lid and reduce down making their flavors much more pronounced and over powering. One great tip by Kelli Foster of the kitchn is to use alcohol to deglaze the pan after searing the meat; letting the alcohol burn off; then adding the meat and the liquid to the slow cooker.
For slow cooker recipes with sour cream, crème fraiche, or any other dairy products, make sure to add them in the last 30 minutes of the cooking process. Adding them earlier can cause curdling. Same goes for fresh herbs which should also be added towards the last few minutes of the cooking time to prevent wilting and dulling in flavor.
According to Today, lifting the lid just once can set you back 30 minutes in the cooking process. If not adding last minute ingredients or stirring per the recipe instructions, try to be patient and contain your curiosity until the time is up.
Let Extra Liquid Boil Off
Even if you end up following the rule of not overfilling the slow cooker, certain vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, and zucchini to name a few, tend to release liquid as they cook. A simple fix is to turn the setting on high and remove the lid towards the end. Depending on the saucy-ness you are aiming for, reducing the liquid this way can take up to 45 minutes.
Just like people, slow cookers too have their quirks. According to the folks at Good Housekeeping, be mindful of your particular model and experiment with a recipe several times to find out how you need to tweak the temperature and time to your specific slow cooker.
Watch this video to learn how to make a scrumptious pizza in your slow cooker.
It's no surprise that for many of us, beside a microwave, the slow cooker might just see the most action in the kitchen. Whether in colder months, year round potlucks, or for holiday gatherings follow these tips and slow cook to your hearts content.