There is something special about coming home after a long day of work and smelling something delicious in the slow cooker. Without a lot of effort, supper will be ready in only a few minutes. I blogged about using a slow cooker a couple of years ago. It is surprising how many people have discovered that blog post and asked questions. I have done a bit of research recently and thought that I could share just a bit more information about cooking with a slow cooker.
We blogged recently about fire safety so it is good to know that while a slow cooker will get hot while in use, it is considered safe to use on the counter top. A well-maintained slow cooker is not a fire hazard due to the low wattage of the appliance.
Typically, a slow cooker takes about 7 or 8 hours to reach 200°F on low or 4 to 5 hours to reach that same temperature on high. This temperature should be enough to kill any bacteria that might be present. As the food reaches that temperature, the meat will become done enough for meat to fall off the bones and for the flavors of the foods in the slow cooker to meld together. Remember not to open the lid of the cooker as that allows heat to escape. Removing the lid later in the process has less effect than removing it during the first hour or two. Use an instant read thermometer to know if meat has cooked long enough.
Your recipe may call for some special ingredients. Here are some tips for using those special ingredients.
- Pasta: If your recipe calls for pasta, pre-cook the pasta until it is just slightly tender. You can then add it to the slow cooker during the last hour or two of cooking.
- Rice: Simply add the rice and an equal amount of water to the slow cooker when you are adding ingredients at the beginning of the cooking time.
- Dry beans: Dry beans must be softened completely. Once the beans contact sugar or an acid, they will remain hard. If you must put all the ingredients into the cooker at once, consider using canned beans.
- Vegetables: Root vegetables (things like potatoes and carrots) require a longer cooking time than some meats. Be sure to place them at the bottom of the cooker when adding food.
- Liquid: your recipe must include some liquid. At the very least your need ½ to 1 cup of liquid. The foods in the cooker will contribute additional liquid during the cooking time. This liquid aids in transfer of heat from the cooker to the food.
- Thickeners: You can add a thickener at the beginning or the end of the cooking time. Not all thickeners work equally well. Flour can be added at the end of the cooking time but will require additional cooking time to thicken the food. It can take up to 15 minutes of cooking on high to remove the uncooked flour taste from the dish. Cornstarch works in a similar way, but will thicken after the food returns to a boil. Cornstarch, too, must be added at the end of the cooking time or it will break down. Tapioca is the only cooking starch that you can add at the beginning of the cooking time. Typically, you would use the same amount of tapioca as flour to thicken a dish.
- Milk, cream, sour cream: These foods will break down over a long cooking time. Add these during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking.
- Fish: This delicate food should also be added during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking time.
Use these tips to convert any favorite recipes that you have into a slow cooker recipe. Enjoy a healthy, fast dinner tonight.