Slow Cooker Secrets
by Amy Hunt
Slow cookers are wonderful tools when it comes to the world of snacks. They come in very handy for keeping dips warm, like Chili Con Queso, during an exciting Super Bowl game. And are great for cooking meatballs, or chili. You can throw all different kinds of stuff into a slow cooker.
There are a few guidelines that you should follow when using a slow cooker. Whether you are cooking for a bunch of rowdy people watching football or a meat and potatoes meal, these tips from the makers of the Crock-Pot will enhance your slow cooking experience.
Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Hints and Tips
Due to the nature of a slow cooker, there is no need to stir the food unless it specifically says to in your recipe. In fact, taking the lid off to stir food causes the slow cooker to lose a significant amount of heat, extending the cooking time required. Therefore, it is best not to remove the lid for stirring.
Cooking for Larger Quantity Yields
The recipes on this web site and most of our cookbooks are recommended for 3 to 4 1/2 quart sizes. When preparing recipes in a larger unit, such as a 5 to 7-quart Crock-Pot® slow cooker, here are guidelines for doubling or tripling ingredients:
• When preparing dishes with beef or pork in a larger unit, browning the meat in a skillet before adding to the slow cooker yields the best results; the meat will cook more evenly. Roasted meats, chicken, and turkey quantities may be doubled or tripled, and seasonings adjusted by half. Caution: Flavorful spices such as garlic and chili powder will intensify during long slow cooking. Add just 25 to 65 percent more spices as needed to balance the flavors.
• When preparing a soup or a stew, you may double all ingredients except liquids, seasonings, and dried herbs. Increase liquid volume by half, or as needed. The slow cooker lid collects steam, which condenses to keep foods moist and maintain liquid volume. Do not double thickeners, such as cornstarch, at the beginning. You may always add more thickener later if needed.
• When preparing baked goods or cheesecakes, it is best to simply prepare the original recipe as many times as needed to serve more people.
Adding Ingredients at the End of the Cooking Time
Certain ingredients tend to break down during extended cooking. When possible add these ingredients toward the end of the cooking time. These include:
• Milk, cream and sour cream - add during the last 15 minutes of cooking time.
• Seafood - add in the last hour of cooking time, unless the recipe specifies otherwise.
Pasta and Rice
• For best results with pasta, cook in a pot of boiling water until just tender. Add the pasta to the stoneware during the last half hour of cooking.
• For best results with rice, always use long grain converted rice. If it doesn’t seem to cook completely after the suggested time, you may try adding an extra 1 to 1 2/3 cup of liquid per cup of rice.
Beans must be softened completely before combining with sugar and/or acid foods (NOTE: Sugar and acid have a hardening effect on beans and will prevent softening). Dried beans, especially red kidney beans, should be boiled before adding to a recipe. Cover the beans with 3 times their volume of unsalted water and bring to a boil. Boil 10 minutes, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Soaking in water, if desired, should be completed before boiling. Discard water after soaking or boiling.
• Due to the nature of a slow cooker, meat does not brown as it would if it were cooked in a skillet or oven. It is not necessary to brown meat before slow cooking, however, if you prefer the flavor and look of browned meat, brown your meat in a skillet with a little oil, then place the meat in the stoneware and follow the recipe as usual.
• Trim fats and wipe meats well to remove residue. (If meats contain fats, brown in a separate skillet or broiler and drain well before adding to cooker). Season with salt and pepper. Place meat in stoneware on top of vegetables.
• For roasts and stews, pour liquid over meat. Use no more liquid than specified in the recipe. More juices in meats and vegetables are retained in slow cooking than in conventional cooking.
• A specific liquid called for in a recipe may be varied if an equal quantity is substituted (such as substituting a 10 1/2 ounce can of soup plus 4 ounces of water for a 14 1/2 ounce can of tomatoes OR 1/2 cup beef or chicken broth for 1/2 cup of wine, etc).
• Roasts can be cooked without water when set on LOW. We recommend a small amount, however, because the gravies are especially tasty. The more fat or “marbling” the meat has, the less liquid you need. The liquid is needed to properly soften and cook vegetables.
Herbs and Spices
When cooking with your Crock-Pot® slow cooker, fresh herbs will add aromatic, fresh flavor and color to the finished dish but should be added at the end of the cooking cycle. Dried herbs and spices, particularly ground or crushed, can lessen in flavor during extended cooking time. Add half the amount of dried herbs and spices recommended in the recipe at the beginning then taste and adjust seasonings toward the end of the cooking cycle.
Most vegetables should be thinly sliced or placed near the sides or bottom of the stoneware. Meats generally cook faster than most vegetables in a slow cooker.
Cooking with Frozen Foods
You can cook frozen meats in your Crock-Pot® slow cooker, however it is best to use the following guidelines:
• Add at least 1 cup of warm liquid to the stoneware before placing meat in the stoneware.
• Do not preheat the slow cooker.
• Cook recipes containing frozen meats for an additional 4 to 6 hours on Low, or an additional
2 hours on High.
* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *