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How do you save time and money slow cooking?
I’ve long been a fan of slow cooking – specifically in an electric slow-cooker. You put all the ingredients in the pot at the start of the day; leave them on a low setting, and when you get home from work – voila! It can take a little extra planning, but the results are delicious.
Also, it’s a great method of cooking CHEAPER cuts of meat – the only way, in fact, to make them tender and meltingly succulent. So I’ve been learning about Slow cookers such as the CrockPot (the brand I’ve had since the 70s!) and I’ve found a few tips, courtesy of mealsavers.co.uk and CrockPot.
Slow Cooking means:
- Tenderer meat – as the connective tissues are broken down
- More flavour – the seasoning becomes infused without drying
- Better desserts – the cooking process is easier on delicate puddings
- No burning or boiling – the food is cooked at low temperatures
- Less power usage – the slow cooker is in continuous simmer mode
Save Money and Energy with Slow Cooking
Slow-Cooking saves energy on multiple kitchen appliances. You don’t have to switch on the hob, oven, grill and possibly microwave all for the same recipe – everything’s done in the one pot. It saves on washing up too. And CrockPot is proud to say it only uses the energy of a light bulb. Very green.
Slow Cooking Tips
Slow Food Tip 1: Brown the meat first
I think searing or browning meat (in a separate frying pan) adds flavour and makes the meat look caramelised, not just a stewed, soggy brown. It also kills bacteria on the meat, although these will die during cooking anyway. If it makes a difference, Jamie Oliver has tested his Beef Stew with and without searing and he’s now reported to cook all stews without.
Slow Food Tip 2: Sauté and season vegetables
Likewise, sautéing the vegetables with herbs and spices can add considerable flavour, but this is up to you or if the recipe suggests. You will, of course, then have an extra pan to wash up.
Slow Food Tip 3: Cook tough meat cuts on a low heat
Tougher meats like roasts or brisket need extra cooking time as they have more connective tissue. To compensate, lower the heat and increase the cooking time (one hour on a high heat usually equals two hours on low heat).
Slow Food Tip 4: Use half the liquid
Most hob or oven recipes require liquid to be added which reduces naturally during the cooking process. However, liquid doesn’t escape from slow cookers so use 50% less liquid to avoid a watery dish.
Slow Food Tip 5: Cook poultry for less
While red meats take longer to tenderise in a slow cooker, chicken cooks relatively quickly. Most poultry recipes require 5-6 hours on a low heat.
Slow Food Tip 6: Cut root vegetables into small pieces
Many root vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots, and parsnips) cook even slower than meats in a slow cooker. To ensure root vegetables are cooked thoroughly, cut them into small pieces no bigger than an inch across.
Slow Food Tip 7: Add leafy vegetables last
High-moisture vegetables (like leafy greens, peppers, peas, courgettes, and squash) can become soggy, so add them in for the final 15-30 minutes of slow cooking.
Slow Food Tip 8: Avoid lifting the lid
Each time the lid is removed from the slow cooker, it adds twenty minutes to the overall cooking time! So only lift the lid to add extra ingredients or check meat towards the end.
Slow Cooking Safety
As with any type of cooking, there are certain ground rules to follow, particularly with meat in order to avoid food poisoning. Here are some top slow cooking safety tips:
Safety Tip 1: Don’t overfill the slow cooker
Rather than slow cook a whole roast, cut it up into small pieces to speed up the cooking process. Never fill the pot more than two-thirds full.
Safety Tip 2: Never use frozen meat
Thaw frozen meat before placing it in the slow cooker. Also defrost vegetables so as not to reduce the overall temperature.
Safety Tip 3: Refrigerate leftovers within two hours
To prevent bacteria growth in meat.
I don’t know how much meat you can eat in one sitting but I am happy with about 150g. I was going to do one lamb shank EACH for this recipe until I saw how vast they were, and decided one between two would be fine, bearing in mind 2 of my guests were children. But if you need more meat, do one shank each. The shank is the part of the lamb’s leg just above the knee. It has lots of connective tissue but it becomes tender in this recipe.
Lamb Shanks in the Slow Cooker (serves 4)
- 1 tbsp olive oil + 1tsp chilli oil if liked
- 2 lamb shanks (I used 820g total = £5.73)
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 200ml red wine
- 450ml passata/400g chopped tinned tomatoes
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 2 tsp mixed dried herbs
- 1 stock cube (beef or lamb)
- salt and pepper
- Sear the shanks in the oils in a hot frying pan, turning them over to brown all sides for a few minutes.
- Transfer to the CrockPot (or other brand of slow cooker).
- Sprinkle over the flour.
- Add the chopped onion and garlic to the juices in the frying pan and fry for a minute or two.
- Add the red wine and passata (or you can skin and chop up fresh tomatoes).
- Let it bubble and deglaze the pan (i.e. the wine will lift all the caramelised bits of meat off the pan).
- Pour the whole lot over the meat and add vegetables, herbs, crumbled stock cube and seasoning.
- Stir and make sure everything is covered by liquid (if not add a little boiling water from the kettle).
- Cook on high heat for 8 hours or low for 12.
- Serve with a fresh green veg (broccoli, cabbage, peas) and/or a carbohydrate (buttered noodles or pasta, more potatoes, rice).
Tip: You can lift the meat off the bones before serving or serve it bone-in (So we begin and end today’s blog with an innuendo).
Sarah Lockett’s new foodie book The Dish is out now (£9.95, Troubador, £8.96 on Amazon). She will be doing a Q&A and book-signing with her co-author Penny Isaacs on Sat 25th April at Borders flagship store at 203 Oxford St, London W1, from 1-2pm.