Although it means an initial investment, a slow cooker is becoming the credit crunch kitchen accessory du jour. Having already asked for one as a wedding present, I was gratified to see a double-page spread on slow cooker cuisine in The Independent last week.
Why does spending money on a kitchen gadget make economic sense? Will you really use it? Does the food taste any good? Having just used mine for the first time last night, becoming an instant convert, I give you my pros and cons on this brilliant device.
- It will cook all day while you’re at work, and then keep the food nicely heated until you come in to a nice, fresh, hot meal
- It works best with tougher, cheaper cuts of meat and penny-pinching root vegetables
- A large capacity slow cooker will result a dish that can feed two people for three meals
- Even the leftovers can be useful; although I followed the maxim of halving the amount of fluid, I still ended up with a massive amount of tomatoey, chickeny stock. Sieve, cool, freeze – you now have a base for soups and gravy, so even a mistake can work out for the best!
- Even a techno-idiot can use it. My Cusinart number has two dials. One says “Low”, “High” and “Warm” for temperature and the other has numbers 0-8 to represent hours of cooking time.
- If you choose recipes carefully, it can be a great time-saver, delivering days of meals at a time
- Meat will be cooked to glorious, delicious, melting softness
- It’s a healthy way to cook as it basically steams using available liquid so if you don’t choose fatty cuts of meat, fry too many of the ingredients or add oil you can eat delicious, nutritious food without packing on the pounds.
- The initial cost, although they can come in at under £50 if you don’t require a huge capacity.
- There are some dishes it’s not worth using for, such as Chili Con Carne, because the amount of prep beforehand makes it not much of a time saver.
- Sometimes the lengthy cooking process can swamp more subtle flavours. You can counteract this by simple methods such as using whole peppercorns instead of ground and reserving some fresh herbs and spices for adding at the point of serving. For example, for a Thai Green Curry hang on to a handful of fresh coriander, some finely sliced chillies and the juice of a lime to stir in just before eating.
My first recipe, which I more or less made up and cobbled together from the suggested dishes in the instruction manual, is listed below. Making it again, I’d use just one can of tomato, as the celery and ‘shrooms ditch so much fluid you end up with a lot of liquid. It all depends on how thick a casserole or stew you want, of course.
It would have come in at just a couple of pounds per meal if I had bought ‘normal’ supermarket chicken, but my husband only cooks kosher meat at home. It maxed out the capacity of our large machine and has provided lunch for today and tomorrow and dinner for tonight!
Chicken Casserole in a Slow Cooker
5 chicken thigh quarters
2 cans diced tomato
1 glass red wine
1kg new potatoes
1 pack (special offer!) baby carrots
1 pack parsnips
1 pack mushrooms
1 pack celery hearts
1 large onion
Handful of plain flour
1 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
2 tbsp mixed dried herbs
Generous pinch of peppercorns
Pinch of salt
Splash of Worcestershire Sauce
For the vegetables, the only preparation was cutting them into large chunks and rinsing them. I then mixed the tomato with the herbs, wine, seasoning and Worcestershire sauce to ensure it combined completely. I chose to hack up and include the onion as a main ingredient rather than soften it in a pan, finely diced, beforehand and including it with the tomato but that’s a tasty alternative, as is adding garlic.
The chicken thighs were lightly dredged in flour and the oil heated in a saucepan. Then I simply ‘sealed’ the quarters by frying them off for a couple of minutes on each side. This was mainly to augment the flavour – it’s not required to ensure the chicken is cooked as it’s barely browned.
It all went in the pot, then I set it to cook for seven hours on low and went to bed. It automatically switched to “Hold” at the end of the cooking process, which keeps it hot; this meant some amusing running around this morning trying to cool the excess enough to put it in the fridge, so from now on I’d probably cook in the morning or on a weekend evening when I had more time to cool things in the morning.
Are you a slow cook devotee? Do you have one gathering dust in your kitchen? Got any great recipes? I’d love to hear about it.
Image via amynrobc's flickr