Ask Peter: Slow cookers
My husband has just taken to making slow cooker stews and does them really well, but it would be nice to change the flavours around. Do you have any suggestions? Isobel
I’m not sure what flavours your husband is currently using, so I’m not sure what you’d like to switch them to. But … I’m going to hazard a guess that his food is fairly Western European/French. I hope I’m correct. If so, then you need to look towards the Middle East, Cantonese China, and Southeast Asia. You could also have some South American influence in there too of course, and some North African, but I think I’ll focus on the former or today’s column will become a cookbook.
Firstly, and assuming we’re talking meat stews here, what meats is he using? Are we talking diced beef or venison (shin, rump, cheeks, topside), lamb (shoulder, leg, neck), pork (belly, leg, cheek, hock), chicken (legs —bone in or out, diced whole body)?
Once you understand the cut you can understand the flavours that work well. For example, a pork belly stew will obviously be much more fatty than one made from diced beef topside. Fatty foods like pork belly go really well with flavours like star anise, ginger, orange, cumin — whereas more muscly, leaner meats like beef topside, go somewhat better with hard herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme, and flavours such as garlic, olives, diced tomatoes and the like.
Having said that, a braised shoulder (slightly fatty and excellent to slow cook) of lamb will go really well with both tomatoes and ginger. On top of that you need to consider whether you’d like to add some caramelised onions, bacon lardons and other fatty foods to the stew which will make it lovely and tasty, but could also make it somewhat too fatty.
Then, last of all, but not quite, you have to consider what you’ll serve as garnish. A lean beef stew will go really well, and benefit from, a creamy mashed potato or a soft porridge-like creamy polenta. A porkbelly stew may be too rich with either of these and would benefit from a polenta made from a stockbase (rather than milk or cream) or a warm hummus made by pureeing chickpeas with roast pumpkin, roast garlic and some sage sizzled in butter.
The veges you serve will also play an important part in your meal and I’d suggest steamed greens are great with fatty stews and butter-sizzled thinly sliced savoy cabbage with lean meats.
Here are some combinations that might help. For all of these use 1.5kg diced meats, cut into chunks between 2-3cm square. If your butcher will cut the bones into chunks, then add these as well and add to the cooker as they’ll enrich it enormously.
2 tsp toasted cumin, 1 tsp toasted coriander seeds, 10cm cinnamon quill, 6 cloves chopped garlic, 2 tsp grated ginger, 1-2 tsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp dried oregano, 2 x 400g cans chopped peeled tomatoes, salt to taste.
5 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 2 Tbsp sesame oil, 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, 200g tofu, cut into 1cm cubes, 8-10 dried shiitake mushrooms — rinsed in 400ml warm water for 5 minutes then halved or quartered and added to the meat with the soaking liquor (poured through a fine sieve to remove any grit from the mushrooms), 4 strips orange or mandarin peel and 4 star anise. For the last hour’s cooking add 4 spring onions cut into 3cm lengths, and salt to taste.
3 Tbsp grated ginger, 8 cloves sliced garlic, 2 x 15cm lemongrass stems split in half lengthways, 6 lime leaves, 2-4 red chillies sliced into rings, 2 tsp toasted coriander seeds, 4 Tbsp fish sauce, 500ml coconut milk.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.