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General tips and secrets for slow cookers before, during and after cooking.

Before the lid goes on


Browning. For recipes such as stews and pot roast, it helps to brown meat in a skillet, then add to the pot. Some recipes tell you this isn’t necessary, but this does give a more thorough browning and better appearance as well as more tender meat.


Vegetables. However, if due to time constraints you are looking for shortcuts, then don’t object to the pale appearance as its possible to put everything in the pot at once and does save on time and cleanup.


Cooking with vegetables in the slow cooker does give different results to standard cooking. In some types of crocks, vegetables take longer than the meat to reach tenderness. Experiment with your cooker, layering vegetables at the bottom of the pot.


Thickening. Recipes can be thickened at the beginning by stirring in three or four tablespoons of tapioca.


Settings. Some recipes offer the choice of Low or High settings, however for those which only indicate one, these can quite easily be converted. High settings can be converted to Low by doubling the time length. Low settings can be converted to High by doing the reverse – cut time in half. ( Low gives the tenderness and mingling of the flavours, High is more like standard cooking )


During Cooking


Do nothing! Peeking only lets out steam and that means adding 15 – 20 minutes to the cooking time for it to build up again.


On the High setting, an occasional stir may be needed to prevent certain foods from sticking.


After the Lid comes off


Most slow cooker recipes give a rang of cooking times such as ‘6-8 hours’. Check at the end of the minimum time to see if the food is done to your liking. If it isn’t tender, give it more time. If you’re running late, turn a cooker that has been on Low up to High. That will cut remaining time in half.


On the other hand, if the meat is done in six hours and you’d planned dinner for a later hour, turn the cooker off and let the dish ‘rest’ until serving time, rather than let the food overcook.


After cooking is the time to add those foods that cannot go in at the beginning such as sour cream, cooked pasta and the like. Stir them in just to heat through before serving.


If the sauce needs thickening, take your choice of these methods;


Mix one tablespoon of flour or cornstarch for each cup of cooking liquid with enough cold water to make a smooth paste. Stir into the pot liquid and turn the heat up to high. With the lid off, stir the sauce until it reaches the thickness you like.


Mix equal parts of butter or margarine and flour. One tablespoon of this mixture will thicken a cup of pot liquid.


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