Forget what Jon Snow says, winter is well and truly here. So it's time to dust off the slow cooker and get your chopping knives at the ready for some succulent winter feasts.
But before you go on veggie-chopping, stew-making, soup-slurping frenzy, there are a few things you should know about getting the best from your favourite winter electrical appliance.
Don't own a slow cooker? Go out and buy one now. We'll wait – because there's no other electricity powered appliance that can see you through the brisk winter months.
First introduced in the seventies, as Rival’s “Crock-Pot”, the slow cooker quickly became the must-have kitchen gadget for time-poor housewives. It works by producing steam, which condenses on the lid and returns to the pot. This method of moisture-heat cooking means slow cookers use only the same amount of electricity as one light bulb. In recent years, growing trends of the slow food movement and low energy living mean slow cookers are once again the hero of the kitchen.
Here’s some tips to get the best from your electric slow cooker:
1. Buy seasonal vegetables and cheap cuts of meat in bulk from your local market. Then just chop them up, throw in some seasoning, and pop on the lid. Hey presto, a few hours later or even the next day, you can tuck into the delicious rewards.
2. Buy lots of small containers to portion your tasty meals, and then freeze them so you always have an emergency dinner ready for those can’t-be-bothered evenings.
3. Focus on mastering one slow cooker recipe, then reinvent it using different herbs, spices, wine, meat and veg. Suddenly, it’s a whole new masterpiece!
4. Mix and match the sides to add variety to your stews, soups, curries and braises. Think rice, couscous, farro, quinoa, baked potato, crusty bread and beyond.
5. Remember, at the heart of slow cooking is using a low heat to make tough meat tender. So test out your slow cooker’s prowess with different meats, like lamb shanks, beef shin, veal shin, chuck and flank steak, and even pork neck. Cook them for a long time between 80C and 100C, and the tough bits (the collagen) break down, leaving mouth-watering succulent pieces.
6. To keep the dish wonderfully seasoned, use fresh herbs. Throw in both the stem and leaves, and as the stem cooks slowly, it will continue to release flavour. Another tip is to add spices, like fresh chillies, just before the slow cooking finishes and let the different flavours fuse.
7. Never use water if you can use wine or stock. Water adds nothing while wine or stock will bring out the full flavour of your dish.
8. Don’t overfill the pot with liquid. Because very little steam escapes, you may end up with too much liquid in the pot.
9. However tempting it is to taste your delicious creation, keep the lid on the pot. Slow cooking is dependent on building a consistent temperature inside the pot. Removing the lid will impact the timing.
Follow these tips and it won’t be long before you’re coming home to a mouthwatering Osso Bucco or hearty Irish stew to make your grandma proud.