Slow cooker tips: Time for real flavour
With the cooler weather it is time to get the slow cooker out. Can you advise how to cook meat in a slow cooker in a way that is both tasty and tender? Too often the meat comes out tender but tasteless.
Many thanks, Jennifer
My mum Timmy is an expert with the slow cooker and I have promised myself that I'll be buying one next winter in London. A few weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of induction hobs and for those who have them and not a slow cooker, they can work just as well so long as you use a heavy pot, or one with even conductivity.
If I need to cook something on low heat for a long period I do get nervous leaving the house when I'm cooking on gas. On an induction hob you can safely cook at a controlled low heat for an extended period of time without worrying about it - and the slow cooker is exactly the same.
As to why your meat would be tasteless is surely a matter of what you're actually adding to them as they cook. Herbs, garlic, spices and seasoning are no doubt the easiest things to add, and using any or all of these will make sure your meal will be powerful and punchy.
Other things to add are soy sauce or fish sauce (instead of salt), grated fresh ginger, a bashed lemongrass stem (lovely with a batch of chicken legs and even a boned lamb shoulder), chillies, lime leaves and even liquids like coconut cream, stock, or a little booze like red wine (for beef) or cider (for pork).
I tend to brown the meat in a hot pan with a little oil and place in the cooker sitting on a few herbs. In the same pan I caramelise sliced onions or whole shallots, and thickly sliced peeled garlic and when they're ready add a cup or so of liquid and bring to the boil. Pour this over the meat, put the lid on and let it cook away.
You can baste the meat too as it cooks, which helps it keep nice and juicy, although the joy of a slow cooker (or a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid) is that the cooking juices don't easily escape. After about 3-4 hours (depending on the size of the joint of meat) add large chunks of scrubbed kumara or potatoes and let them cook as well. Mum cooks a great dish of thickly sliced pork belly.
She marinates the bellies for a few hours in soy sauce, honey, garlic and a little sesame oil, then layers them into the slow cooker and drizzles a little water on top. She's also very good with a simple rolled, boned shoulder of lamb.
Personally I'd unroll the shoulder and smother it with lots of roughly chopped herbs (thyme, rosemary and sage), crushed garlic, chilli flakes, lemon peel and a good amount of seasoning. Roll it back up and tie firmly with string them place in the cooker sitting on the stalks of the herbs.
Add a good slosh of pastis or any other anise-type liquor and a few bay leaves. For a beef dish, I'd mix diced beef with a few tablespoons of miso paste and mirin (or use a little honey and red wine mixed together), sliced onions, field mushrooms and carrots, bay leaves and horseradish paste.
Pour on enough stock or even water to cover it by 2cm and leave it to cook away. Season it towards the end either with salt or soy sauce and stir in lots of roughly chopped parsley at the end. Serve with mashed potatoes. However, you can also use the slow cooker for things other than meat.
I was at a friend's house in Matamata a year or so ago and she uses her slow cooker to cook quince (or use pears) and rhubarb. Peel the quince or pears, cut into quarters and remove the core. Place in the slow cooker with a generous amount of sugar (if cooking just pears you'll need less) and spices like cinnamon, star anise, allspice, sliced ginger, lemon peel and juice and just enough water, or apple juice, to cover.
Cook for 3 hours then add 3cm pieces of rhubarb and cook another 45 minutes. The results are delicious, with the rhubarb giving the fruit a lovely pink tinge. We eat the compote with breakfast cereal.
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