Slow cooker season
There is enough of a chill in the air for me to brush the cobwebs from the slow cooker and return it to a prime position on the kitchen bench — back from the laundry where I store it over summer.
Not that I will use it every day but slow cookers make tasty, tender treats that I divide into meal sizes then freeze for those busy days when I don’t get home until six in the evening.
I’ve learnt over the years that slow cooker meals can be overdone relatively easily. In general, most recipe cooking times are for eight hours. However chicken and vegetable casseroles take a lot less time. Five to six hours of cooking is usually ample. Overcooking can turn the meal to mush and it loses its unique flavour.
To obtain the best flavour, lightly brown the meat and veggies before placing them in the slow cooker. However, if time is limited this step can be eliminated. It is important though to pre-cook onion either by sautéing in a frying pan or in the microwave. If not precooked, raw onion flavour can sometimes dominate.
If you want to convert a favourite recipe, a meal that normally takes one hour to cook in a conventional oven at 160°C, takes about six hours in a slow cooker on low.
Passata is puréed tomatoes that have been seasoned. This recipe serves 8.
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
16 skinned and boned chicken thighs
2 large carrots
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
250g mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
8 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
- Place the onion and olive oil in a microwave bowl. Cover and cook for 1-2 minutes, until soft.
- Place the chicken in a large slow cooker. Top with the onion and vegetables. Add the passata, tomato paste, herbs and olives and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 hours. The juices maybe thickened with 2 tablespoons of cornflour mixed to a paste with a little water. Add about 30 minutes before the end of cooking.
- Great served on potato mash or rice.
Gravy beef is one of the cheapest cuts of stewing beef and has loads of flavour. It lends itself well to slow cooking. Sometimes the pieces can be divided into sections where there are seams. I used Boundary Road Coffee Oatmeal Stout. Serves 6.
1.5kg gravy beef
6 small banana (long) shallots, peeled, left whole
4 rashers bacon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1½ cups stout
2 tablespoons each: chopped fresh thyme, brown sugar, tomato paste, plain flour
¼ cup water
- Discard any fat and gristle from the beef. Cut the meat into 4cm pieces. Place in a slow-cooker.
- Add the shallots, bacon, garlic, stout, thyme, brown sugar and tomato paste. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.
- Combine the flour and water and stir in. Cover and cook for another hour.
Curried vegetable hot pot
A great vegetarian lunch or dinner main. Serves 6.
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, finely diced
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1½ cups each: barley, peeled & diced pumpkin
4 cups vegetable stock
3 cloves garlic, crushed
400g can diced tomatoes in juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. Add the onions and carrots and cook until the onions are soft. Stir in the curry powder then place in a slow cooker.
- Wash the barley well. Place in the slow cooker. Add all the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
- Great garnished with plain yoghurt and chopped fresh herbs and served with crusty bread.
Spicy orange lamb
The cooking time may depend on the size of your slow cooker. Serves 6.
1.2kg boned leg lamb, tied neatly with string
2 teaspoons each: fennel seeds, cumin seeds
Grated rind 1 orange
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon cornflour
1½ tablespoons water
- Score the lamb and rub with the combined fennel and cumin seeds and the orange rind. Place in a slow cooker. Add the orange juice and maple syrup down the side. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours.
- Remove the meat. Cover and rest for 5 minutes while making the sauce.
- Tip the liquid into a saucepan. Discard any fat. Bring to the boil. Combine the cornflour and water and stir into the liquid. Simmer, until thick.