Slow-cooked meals are easy, fuss-free and delicious, and now is the perfect time to be cooking those winter warmers that the slow cooker is made for - but are you making the most of them?
Here are five tips to help you get your slow cooker recipes right every time. Sorted.
1. Get on trend
And by that I mean save a bit of money! Cheaper cuts of meat are all the rage in top restaurants right now, and a slow cooker makes it so easy to do it at home. Oxtail, shoulders, brisket, shin, chuck; when cooked properly these can be some of the best bits of the animal, and with a little time they can easily become the most delicious.
To start off, try an absolute classic – beef bourguignon. Grab some classic stewing beef like shin or chuck, add everything to the pot, whack on the lid, turn it on and leave to cook.
2. A little extra effort goes a long way.
Slow cooker meals are the ultimate lazy midweek meal for when you get in and need something ready and waiting. But if you’re willing to dirty another pan or two, suddenly you’ve got something that goes from great to amazing.
Meat in stews is always better if you brown it first to get that lovely caramelised crust. Try browning that floured beef in the bourguignon, or take things a step further and brown a couple of lamb shanks really well before adding them to a saffron sauce.
3. Low and slow
Slow cooking can be pretty… well, slow. We’ll often whack up the cooker to high and cook for 4 hours or so to speed things up and it turns out perfectly well. But if you’ve got the time, or you’re super organised in the morning, try cooking for double the time on low; that’ll give all those flavours even more time to develop and the result will be even better.
This is particularly good when you’re doing something like a curry. Let all those ingredients get to know each other, add a little cream and fresh herbs right at the end, and enjoy!
4. Leave it alone!
No matter how good it smells, no matter how hungry you are, don’t lift that lid until you need to! It won’t be a disaster if you do, but every time you sneak a peek the cooking time will increase. That’s not ideal on a 4-8 hour cook!
Since you’re now ensuring that you don’t go near your pot to avoid temptation, another good point is that since the lid stays on, the moisture in the pot is retained. Any liquid won’t thicken much, if at all. That’s means you should go easy on the amount of liquid you use. If it’s particularly thin, grab some corn flour right at the end of cooking to thicken it up, or reduce it down in another pan before serving.
Don’t stick to the traditional meaty stews: there’re loads more things you can do with your slow cooker, from fudge to brownies, bread to overnight porridge, and even homemade condensed milk!
You can also adapt any slow cook that you’d usually do in the oven or on the hob to a slow cooker. We’ve cooked pulled pork in the oven, but it could just as easily be done in the slow cooker with amazing results – in fact, check out Mardi’s feature on how to make pulled pork in a slow cooker. Grab yourself that pork shoulder, make that extra effort to brown it well, then chuck everything into the cooker. Cook it low and slow, and don’t lift that lid!
Those are our top tips for the perfect slow cook, but how do you do it? Got any favourite cuts to use, unusual recipes, or just great tricks for making the most of your slow cooker? Let us know!
And for more great ideas for hearty, warming meals, check out our top 14 soups and stews below.
The wonderfully earthy taste of celeriac combined with the sweetness of the apples and heady taste of crispy sage makes this one of our absolute favourite soups for this time of year.
Forget every chilli con carne you’ve ever tasted –Jamie’s signature one is made with brisket, slow-cooked in smoky chillies and coffee, and torn apart at the end to give the most amazing texture and a heavenly flavour.
At this time of year, we need nourishing ingredients and comforting flavours, which is where soups like this take the spotlight – cheap, healthy, and incredibly warming.
One could make a strong case for this classic chicken soup being the ultimate comfort food – nourishing, warming, and absolutely delicious, it is, as Jamie says, heaven in a bowl.
Scotch broth is a timeless classic, and few soups out there are more robust in flavour, nutrients or, with its optional splash of whisky, comfort.
A rich and robust dish from Jamie’s adventures in America, this sausage stew is full of sweet vegetables and heady spices, producing a thick and beautiful gravy – perfect served over rice on a cold day.
We couldn’t have a list of soups and miss out this creamy classic. Although traditionally made with clams, the famous vegetarian version is equally wonderful in flavour, and wildly popular across the States and Canada.
There are people out there who seem to think that chilli should only be made with meat, but Kerryann’s incredible vegetarian chilli, stuffed with loads of lovely pulses, would shut up even the most obnoxious carnivore.
Look no further for the ultimate chicken stew – really. This hunter’s stew, or cacciatore, is an Italian classic, and the red wine sauce coupled with the beautiful saltiness of olives and anchovies, makes it one of the best ways to eat chicken, like, ever.
There are few things like a really perfect mushroom soup, and this one, with its base of porcini and topping of rich, creamy mascarpone, is very much the real deal. You’ll thank us later.
Proper fish stew like this can be hard to come by, so it’s well worth taking the time to make this blinder of a recipe – almost any fish will work, and the combination of that wonderful, lemony broth with dill, sweet tomatoes and lovely soft potatoes is an absolute joy.
Full of lovely greens, veg and herbs, this fresh take on minestrone soup sums up the best of spring (even if we’re not quite there yet).
French onion soup is a humble and incredibly important recipe, but Jamie’s version is a step up, incorporating leeks as well as lots of different onions, and a gorgeous lid of cheese on toast.
Another indulgent and beautiful slow cook, this incredible chilli uses both a kilo of pork belly and a kilo of brisket, along with a butternut squash for a substantial and comforting sweetness. Perfect for when the cold nights are setting in.