Try making our top seven easy slow cooker recipes
• Rich, meaty beef or lamb stew
• Tender chicken casserole
• Warming veg and bean soup
• Proper chilli con carne
• Easy slow-cooked curry
• Slightly spicy Caribbean chicken
• Super Sticky toffee pudding
Tips and tricks to perfect slow cooking
We’re so used to being able to chuck a meal in a microwave these days that we’ve forgotten the original convenience cooking method: the slow cooker. It truly is a mealtime miracle: throw in the ingredients in the morning, leave it alone, and return in a few hours to the most flavoursome, tender food you’ve ever eaten.
And when time is tight and supermarket prices are going up, going back to basics with a crockpot could be the best move a busy mum or dad could make. Not only is it easy to use, but it works best with all the cheapest ingredients, such as cheap cuts of meat, root vegetables and pulses.
And because low-heat cooking maximises the flavour of meat, you can use less of it, making your meals even cheaper and healthier. Here are six essential tips to make sure you get the best out of your slow cooker or crockpot.
1. Choose cheaper cuts
Cuts of meat such as lamb neck, beef brisket and chicken thigh have more flavour than the bland but tender fillet or breast, and really come into their own with the slow cooker. Tough or fatty when cooked normally, they become butter-soft in the crockpot, imbuing the sauce and veg with all the flavour of the meat. Quick tip: trim off as much fat as possible, because it won’t drain off the meat like it would in a roasting tin.
2. Adapt stew and casserole recipes
If you’re adapting recipes such as Irish stew or Sausage casserole reduce the liquid by about a third, or so that it just about covers the ingredients, because the lid on a stockpot prevents it evaporating and reducing. You might want to add a little cornflour paste or season the meat in flour, too, to thicken the sauce.
3. The slower the better
Slow-cooked food is at its best when it’s REALLY slowly cooked, and that makes it easier for you, too – put it on the Low setting in the morning before work, and come home to beautifully cooked food eight or nine hours later. And it’s best if you don’t take the lid off, as that lets out heat – you really don’t need to do anything until you’re ready to serve. Put root veg at the bottom of the pot, as they take longer to cook than meat or other vegetables.
4. Clean with ease
Choose a cooker with a removable pot, so that you simply fill with hot soapy water and leave to soak if needed, or just wash straight away with Fairy Liquid and leave to dry until next time you need it.
5. Prepare ahead
You can prepare all the ingredients the night before, so they’re ready to just throw into the pot in the morning, saving you time when you need to rush out of the door.
6. Convert normal cooking times to slow cooker timings
If you want to convert an ordinary recipe to a slow cooker recipe, bear in mind that a usual cooking time of 30 minutes would take 4-6 hours in a slow cooker on a low setting; 1 to 2 hours would become 6 to 8 hours in a slow cooker; and 2 to 4 hours would take 8 to 12 hours. You can slow cook at a faster pace if you opt for a high setting.
Seven easy slow-cooker recipes
The joy of a slow-cooker recipe is that, at its easiest, you can throw pretty much anything in there with some stock or other liquid, and it will come out delicious at the other end. As long as you have it on Low, and leave it on a non-flammable surface such as granite, tiles or a baking tray, it’s safe to leave all day. You don’t even need to add fat or oil. Here are some of our favourite recipes to guide you.
Rich, meaty beef or lamb stew
Combine beef or lamb neck fillet, cut into large pieces, with chopped onions, carrots, swede, pumpkin, barley, a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and some vegetable stock (enough to cover all the ingredients), putting the root vegetables at the bottom of the pot. Cook all day or overnight and you’ll have the tastiest family beef stew ever the next day.
Tender chicken casserole
In a frying pan, brown six boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 8-10 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped, about 200g shallots and a couple of chopped garlic cloves. Put 350g baby new potatoes in the base of the pot, add the meat and shallots on top, together with about 700ml of hot chicken stock, or chicken stock and white wine, and a few sprigs of thyme. Simmer on High for 4-6 hours, or low for 8-9 hours. Before serving add a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
Warming veg and bean soup
Put a diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 diced medium potato or sweet potato, 2 peeled and sliced carrots, 2 diced celery stalks, a handful or two of frozen broad beans (peel if you have time), a couple of tins of butter or cannellini beans, and some spices, such as paprika, Worcestershire sauce, a little chilli, salt, pepper and a bay leaf. Cook on Low for 8-10 hours, adjust the seasoning to taste, and finely grate over some Parmesan or Cheddar to serve, or sprinkle with fresh herbs.
Proper chilli con carne
Fry up a sliced onion, sliced red pepper and a small bunch of finely chopped coriander stalks (reserve the leaves to garnish), and place in the slow cooker. Then chop 500g of trimmed beef brisket into small slices, season with salt and pepper, and fry in the same pan, just to colour, and add to the casserole. In the same pan, fry two large crushed garlic cloves, 2 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp coriander and 1 tsp ground coriander in the meat juices, add 2 tbsp tomato puree, a tin of chopped tomatoes and 300ml hot beef stock, and bring to the boil. Pour into the slow cooker and mix with the meat, then cook on Low for 7 hours. An hour before serving, add two tins of kidney beans. Serve with rice, and sprinkle the coriander leaves on top.
Easy slow-cooked curry
Make or buy a curry paste, and fry it up with two onions and four crushed garlic cloves. Sprinkle in 3 tbsp plain flour, stirring to avoid lumps, then add a tin of tomatoes. Half fill the tin with water and add that too, then stir in your choice of meat – try 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into chunks, or some lamb fillet for a meatier curry. Add the juice of half a lemon, then put it all in the slow cooker on Low for about 7 hours. Serve with rice or naan, and a sprinkling of coriander.
Slightly spicy Caribbean chicken
Slash the surface of eight boneless, skinless chicken thighs two or three times, then rub in a bought or made jerk marinade. In a frying pan, brown the chicken in a little sunflower oil and transfer to a plate. Add 1 tbsp sunflower oil to the pan and fry 2 onions and 3 garlic cloves for 5 minutes. Add a tin of coconut milk and 300ml chicken stock, season and bring to the boil. Transfer half the mixture and chicken to the slow cooker, add a can of kidney beans, then put the remaining chicken and sauce on top. Cook on Low for 7 hours. Fifteen minutes before serving, add frozen peas and continue to cook on High. Serve with rice and lime wedges.
Super sticky toffee pudding
Slow cookers are great for traditional steamed puddings, from chocolate to toffee, and this is a classic. First make the sauce by mixing together 200ml double cream, 25g butter, 75g light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp golden syrup in a pan. Heat gently until melted, then simmer for five minutes, being careful not to burn it.
Place 200g roughly chopped dates into 250ml cold water in a saucepan, and bring to the boil, remove from the heat then add 1tsp bicarbonate of soda. Cream 50g unsalted butter and 175g muscovado sugar, then beat in two eggs. Fold in 175g self-raising flour, then stir in the date mix.
Put half the toffee sauce in the bottom of a greased 1-litre pudding basin, then add the pudding mix. Cover with buttered foil and baking paper, adding a pleat to allow it to expand, and tie securely with string. Place in the slow cooker and add boiling water to halfway up the sides of the slow cooker. Cook on Low for 8 hours. Stand for 2 minutes then carefully turn the pudding out onto a plate. Serve with the rest of the sauce and some extra cream.
What are your favourite slow-cooker recipes? Join the conversation in the comments box below.