Want to make great tasting Slow Cooker Meals that your family will actually want to eat? These seven handy tips will change the way you use your slow cooker, and have everybody coming back for seconds.
I bought my first slow cooker about seven years ago. I used it to make soap. After listening to the mums at school raving about how easy it was to get dinner on the table with a slow cooker, I caved under peer pressure and bought one for food. The first meals I made in my slow cooker were disappointing. They were watery, lacking in flavour, and not all appetising. I persevered though, and over time have worked out these 7 Tips for Great Tasting Slow Cooker Meals.
1. Brown Your Ingredients
I always brown onions and fry off any aromatics (spices, garlic, ginger) in my recipe. The little extra time taken to brown the ingredients in a fry pan first makes a huge difference to the final dish. No time to cook onions? Make a batch of caramelised onions and use these instead. For some dishes, I also brown the meat, and occasionally the vegetables, before adding them to the slow cooker bowl.
Once everything is browned, I add a small amount of stock or wine to the fry pan, scrape any sticky bits into the liquid, and pour the whole lot into the slow cooker. Don’t throw this away! It’s all flavour.
2. Reduce The Amount Of Liquid In The Recipe
Most slow cooker recipes use too much liquid (in my opinion). Meat and vegetables, particularly watery vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms, capsicum and zucchini, release a lot of liquid as they cook. With liquid from the ingredients, plus added liquid, it is no wonder some finished dishes are watery.
I add around 1 – 1 1/2 cups of additional liquid to most recipes. In others, I add none. This usually gives me just the right amount of tasty liquid in the finished dish. There are exceptions to this rule; when cooking ribs and other bony cuts add just enough liquid to cover them, as they do not produce enough liquid during the cook to bathe the meat.
3. Don’t Use Water
I’ve read more than one slow cooker recipe that uses water as the liquid of choice. Water has no flavour, and will add nothing to the dish.
Use good quality vegetable or bone stocks instead. I don’t add wine directly to the slow cooker, as I find it doesn’t cook out properly. Instead I use wine to deglaze the fry pan (See point 1), and allow it to boil briefly before adding it to the slow cooker.
4. Use More Spices
Ingredients such as garlic, ginger, spices and herbs all add additional flavour. However long, slow cooking can dull these flavours, so I add generous amounts at the start of the dish in the hope that some flavour remains at the end. Don’t be afraid to double the amount of spices such as cumin, coriander and even garlic in a recipe.
Be aware, though, that chilli survives the long cook, so unless you like spicy food, use the amount stated in the original recipe.
5. Add Flour to Thicken The Dish
If I think a dish is going to end up quite runny (and it is not soup), I will add a thickening agent with the rest of the ingredients. This ensures the finished dish has an enticing, glossy sauce rather than a thin gruel than runs off my plate.
Plain (all purpose) flour or lentil flour (gluten free) are good options, and can be added in a number or ways. Stir a tablespoon or two (depending on the size of the dish) directly through the ingredients before adding liquid, mix the flour into any cold liquid ingredients, or fry the flour off in the fry pan and stir in the liquid ingredients to form a gravy that can then be poured into the slow cooker bowl.
6. Concentrate The Sauce
Once or twice I have returned home to find I have badly misjudged a recipe and our meal is swimming in a liquid sauce. Should this happen, ladle excess sauce into a saucepan, and reduce over a medium high heat, which will help concentrate the flavour. Pour the reduction back into the slow cooker and stir it through the rest of the dish.
7. Add a Fresh Hit at the End
Adding fresh ingredients just before serving can change the entire dish. I hold back any fresh herbs in a recipe and stir these through at the end, leaving the dish to sit for five minutes before serving to allow the flavours to mix.
A squeeze of lemon or lime juice, a sprinkle of parsley or gremolata, or even a crack of fresh black pepper added at the end can greatly lift a dish.
Some Final Thoughts
Finding good books with recipes that not only work but also taste great really changed the way I used my slow cooker. My current favourites are :
Slow: Mouth-watering Recipes for the Slow Cooker and Crockpot by Allyson Gofton
Ultimate Slow Cooker: Over 100 Simple, Delicious Recipes by Sara Lewis
I have yet to make a dish we haven’t enjoyed from either of these books.
If you want some great slow cooker recipes that incorporate my advice, look no further than:
and there is always Slow Cooker Mexican Chocolate and Zucchini Cake.
If you have any other ideas for making your slow cooker meal sensational I would love to hear about them.7 handy tips for #slowcooker meals your family will actually want to eat. Click To Tweet