I love the way Sarah Wilson (a super cool primal living blogger from Australia) describes her slow cooker: “a highly perfunctory, no bullshit operation in getting food onto plates.”
So true. Slow cooking isn’t glamorous or gourmet, but it’s extremely efficient. And as I mentioned in my last post, it’s pretty much a must if you’re looking to take the paleo thing full time.
But even though it’s simple, it isn’t without it’s quirks. Like every cooking technique, there’s an art to a great slow cooker meal. After a year of good old fashioned trial and error, I’ve settled on a pretty reliable formula for slow cooker success and I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
Here are 9 things I do to make sure every slow cooker meal comes out great:
Make things easy. – The hallmark of the slow cooker is the fact that it eliminates so much hands-on cook time, so take advantage! Choose recipes that don’t require a lot of preparation. Think “chop, dump and go.” Sautéing onions or browning meat beforehand can give the meal more depth, but it’s definitely not necessary.
Plan ahead. – If you’ve got a full day ahead of you and you want your meal ready at dinnertime, consider prepping your ingredients the night before and storing them in the fridge inside the slow cooker insert. Then, just pop everything in the slow cooker first thing in the morning. Also, though I’ve never done it myself, I’ve heard that keeping prepped and seasoned ingredients on hand in the freezer can be a lifesaver.
Use the right cuts. – Truthfully, you can’t really go wrong here, but certain cuts of meat work better than others. Good news is, the best ones happen to be the cheapest! Slow cookers are ideal for tougher, fattier cuts like chuck, shoulder and bottom round. The longer cook time breaks down the tough connective tissue and dissolves the fat, leaving you with tender, juicy meat. Leaner, more expensive cuts like chicken breast and pork loin tend to get tough when cooked for long periods.
Keep the lid on. – Make sure your lid is secured snugly with no gaps for steam to escape. Slow cookers work their magic by keeping the food at a consistent temperature and trapping the steam, so peeking inside or leaving the lid askew can really mess things up.
Go easy on the liquid. – Unlike recipes you cook on the stove, because your slow cooker will have a tightly sealed lid, none of the liquid you add will evaporate. That means if you’re adapting a stovetop recipe, you should use about ⅓ less than it calls for – just enough to cover the meat and vegetables. (Some recipes, like my Unforgettable Paleo Pulled Pork, don’t call for liquid at all.)
Trim the fat. – I’m certainly not advocating low-fat recipes, but because of the way the slow cooking process seals in moisture and fat, it’s possible to end up with overly oily food if you’re not careful. Whereas it’s important to use plenty of fat when you’re searing meat on the stove to keep it from sticking, in the slow cooker, the lid does that work for you. So no need to add any extra oil. By that same token, much of the fat drains away with a normal stovetop roast or sear, but this won’t happen in a slow cooker. Sometimes it’s a good idea trim off a bit of fat from your meat if it looks excessive.
Add ingredients strategically. – Always start with a layer of aromatics — onion, leek, celery, herbs — which you won’t be in danger of overcooking. Next, add your meat, which will take the longest to cook. On top of that should come hearty vegetables like potatoes, carrots and turnips. Daintier vegetables like peas, kale and zucchini can get bitter and mushy if cooked too long, so wait to add them until about two hours before your cook time is up.
Give it time. – Even though your slow cooker probably has two settings — Low and High — you should try to cook on Low as much as possible. The slower and gentler the heat, the more the flavors come out. Also, it may surprise you to know that your meat will probably be cooked through in just an hour two, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ready to eat. The tender, pull-apart-y texture you want comes only once the proteins have broken down, which takes time. So be patient! If it’s not fork-tender, leave it in.
Don’t expect it to look pretty. – As the “chop, dump and go” method would suggest, there isn’t much finesse involved here. Chances are 80% of your dishes will end up looking like a nondescript, brown blob. Sorry to say it. Your Instagram followers won’t be thrilled, but trust me, the flavor and convenience will make up for it.
Not convinced slow cooking is for you? Here are a few reasons Why Everyone Needs a Slow Cooker.
Or, you can check out all my slow cooker recipes here.
Tell me, what are your slow cooking tips and tricks? And what kind of meat is your favorite in the slow cooker?