Slow Cooker 101
In this guide I’ll take you through the best ways to get the most out of your slow cooker, so it works for you while you go to work.
My love for slow cookers runs deep. They’re the best. They’re smart appliances for even smarter home cooks who like to throw ingredients in a pot and walk out the door to work.
As much as I love to cook and create new things. When life is full, my energy and capacity to cook is dimmed. I go into what I call ‘power saving mode‘ and I do the bare minimum to get by.
It’s as if all the options are there – but cooking anything new or outside the box is just too much. I wouldn’t even know where to start and the thought of feeding myself is draining enough, let alone actually doing it.
When I know I’m entering this time, I try to think ahead to what future Lou will need. She’ll need dinner and I’m out all day, then i have to run errands and i wont be home until 7. How can I help her?
A slow cooker meal is the answer.
After running hundreds of cooking classes and just generally talking about my love for cooking. There’s this hesitation or sticking point that seems to come up – my love for slow cookers isn’t always shared. Not because they’re not loved but it seems people just can’t get their head around what to cook in them. Or how to make their slow cooker meals taste different, how long to cook for, what ingredients to put in them, what heat setting. The questions are fired thick and fast. Here’s my attempt at creating a Slow Cooker Guide that will help you build upon your basic cooking skills, if you nail one basic slow cooker recipe you’ll soon find your feet and how you can easily build upon it.
A slow cooker is an electric appliance that sits on your bench top and makes your life easier.
Unlike a traditional gas stove top. A slow cooker can be loaded up and left safely unattended to do the cooking for you while you live your busy full life. Best used to cook tough meats that require a long time to relax and melt in your mouth.
Slow cookers have 3 heat settings:
Warm – keeps your food warm at the specific temperature. This is handy if you finishing cooking in the afternoon and want to keep your food at temperature until you’re ready to serve. Usually this is advised for 2 hours only, but check your specific slow cooker instructions.
Low – cooks on a low heat. Usually advised to cook for 8 hours, which will achieve meltingly delicious fall off the bone meat.
Hot – cook on a hot heat for 4 hours. Achieves what the low setting does in half the time.
I have a Breville. It was a hand me down from my friends parents. I’ve used it for about 8 years so far, both personally and professionally in my commercial kitchen for my catering days. There are many different types you can buy, they’re fairly inexpensive. You can also buy a slow cooker and pressure cooker in one.
My model is very basic, it has a dial with 3 different settings and that’s it. No LCD screen, no timer. Basic.
Look for one that’s capacity is around 5L (as a minimum), 6L is better.
Everything I cook tastes the same.
Let me just nip this one right now. There’s a saying that, nothing changes if nothing changes. This same rule applies to slow cooking and any cooking. Change up your ingredients!!
I say this a lot but we start waaaay down the line with cooking. You need to crawl before you can walk. Experiment with this guide, use the meal inspiration and open your pantry and see what you can find. It’s amazing what is already hiding in there.
What to cook in your slow cooker:
The options are endless, but let’s start with this as a launch point to get you experimenting with your slow cooker. This is only the beginning.
Veggie soup, veggie curry, veggie broth, pre-cook to them store in the freezer for easy meal additions. Here are 2 that I make most often:
Pumpkin soup – 1kg pumpkin, 2 carrots, 1 potato, 2 brown onions, 3 garlic cloves, 1.5L water. Cook on low for 8 hours and blend until creamy when you’re ready to eat.
If you’re a convert to cooking your own beans, chickpeas etc. Cook these in your slow cooker. Follow the usual process, then cook on low for about 4 hours or until done.
You can also add a handful of beans/legumes to your veggie or meat dishes.
Use your slow cooker to take advantage of cheaper but tougher cuts of meat. These cuts of meat need time to reduce down to a fall of the bone consistency because of this, they’re often cheaper to buy.
Use your slow cooker to cook your meat in bulk. Cook in a basic broth recipe, then portion into single/double serve portions (whatever suits your needs). Store in the freezer and remove when you need.
Beef – blade, brisket, chuck, ribs, round, sausages, shin (gravy), skirt, topside,
Chicken – drumsticks, leg, thigh (bone in or out), whole.
Goat – leg, shoulder.
Lamb – forequarter, leg, sausages, shanks, shoulder.
Pork – bone in roasts, forequarter, ham hock, leg, neck, ribs, sausages, shoulder.
Veal – Osso bucco, shanks.
Slow Cooker Anything Recipe
Your choice of meat
2 x onions
2 x carrots
1 x potato
A handful of woody herbs like: oregano, thyme, rosemary
1 tbsp peppercorns
Approx 750mL – 1.5L water – this depends on what you’re planning to make
Dust off your slow cooker and set on the low heat setting.
Place meat in slow cooker.
Roughly chop onions, carrot, potato and add to pot. Top with herbs, peppercorn and water.
Place lid on slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.
You can increase heat to high and cook for 4 hours.
*** a note on cooking your meat, to achieve a fall off the bone consistency takes time + heat. If you are short on time, you can increase the cooking time by chopping your meat into smaller chunks. Test your meat before serving, if it’s still tough it needs more time.
Remove meat from slow cooker.
Strain the liquid, this is a broth. You can drink it, serve it with your meal for a soup or store it in fridge/freezer for later.
Here’s how to serve and make your slow cooker meal taste delicious:
Again, let me say… this is only the beginning it’s a brainstorm of ideas but let’s just start at the beginning and build. You need to actually start the cooking process for new ideas to come to you. Don’t get caught in that Party Pooper mentality of there’s nothing new for me in the slow cooker recipe realm. That my friend is Grade-A bs.
Marinade your meat for 24 hours before cooking.
Curry – add 3 tbsp curry paste and 1 tin coconut milk (with equal parts water). Serve with rice.
Bolognese – cook beef brisket in 2 x 400mL tins chopped tomato (with 1 tin water). Serve with pasta.
Rice – Cook a pot of rice. Make a batch of nutty satay sauce and gently heat on stove. Serve your meat over rice with warm satay sauce.
Pho / Ramen – Cook some noodles, scoop over your slow cooker broth with meat, add 1 tbsp tamari or miso, nori, julienned carrot, zucchini, shallots, coriander and lime.
A simple bowl – I guess you could call this a Buddha Bowl. This is how I choose to make nearly all our meals at home. 1 cup of rice/lentils/beans + roasted veggies + a handful of slow cooked meat + goat cheese (or similar) + a handful of leafy greens + apple cider vinegar + extra virgin olive oil + salt + pepper.
There are a million and one variations of this recipe right here – but the point is, take a base, add your meat and some greens, then top it with all your favourite flavoursome toppings. You could try sauerkraut or kimchi, coconut yoghurt, haloumi, crunchy chickpeas, sourdough croutons, semi-dried tomatoes, pickles, olives.
The world is your oyster with slow cooking and you can roast a crispy chicken, you can make meatloaf, you can cook your overnight oats, you can make chai, you can cook rice. But….. this is starting way down the line. If your current problem is ‘my life is full’, ‘I don’t have time‘, ‘I don’t know how to cook‘ then learning to make meatloaf in your slow cooker may not be the best use of your time, or maybe it is, I can’t give you the definitive answer on that.
What I will say though is start off with learning the super basics, get to know your slow cooker and how it works. Buy some chuck steak, experiment with slow cooking it in a tomato broth vs a coconut broth vs hardly any broth. Then experiment with adding a handful of borlotti beans, or chickpeas, or lentils. Then experiment with making sloppy joes, or serving on rice with a quick satay sauce. Or on pasta. Experiment with straining the broth and blitzing it up with pumpkin to make a pumpkin soup.
The options are endless and our problem isn’t that slow cookers create the same result every time, it’s that we’re not looking left and right in our cupboard. We’re starting wayyyy down the line where our skills can’t necessarily grow or translate beyond that one recipe.
So tell me – would you prefer to cook that meat yourself after a busy day and you’re starving or have it slowly bubble away while you’re going about your day, to be greeted at your front door with the aroma of dinner already done and the knowing all you need to do is cook a simple base and dinner could be on the table in 20 minutes.