A slow cooker, or ‘crock pot’ to give it its less glamorous name, is quite a rarity in most kitchens today. But advocates of this gentle form of cooking rave about the joys of coming home to a warm, welcoming meal that’s been bubbling away all day and is ready to eat as soon as the lid is lifted. Is it time to rediscover the slow cooker?
The idea of ‘slow cooking’ may sound wasteful to those unfamiliar with the idea, as the devices need to be left switched on for several hours. But in actual fact, it’s a very efficient alternative to conventional ovens, which are far larger and require a lot more heat to circulate. Slow cookers instead use steam to create small, targeted pulses of heat to warm the food gradually, which is also why they’ve been used by thrifty cooks for years.
There are so many advantages to this form of cooking it’s hard to list them all, but for busy professionals who don’t have the time or inclination to start chopping up veg after the evening commute, they offer a fantastic, healthy and sustainable alternative to ready meals. All you need to is prepare the ingredients in advance, chill them till the day of your planned meal, pop them in the crock pot and switch it on when you leave for work.
Slow Cookers are ideal for making stews, soups and casseroles. This may sound limiting, but there are thousands of dishes you can create using this method. Check out the Slow Cooking Recipes site for some ideas. They are also useful for cooking rice – a skill that many otherwise accomplished cooks can never quite perfect on the hob! Mulled wine, granola, stewed fruit and baby food are also very easy to make using a slow cooker.
The gradual cooking time means that the ingredients are mixed together more thoroughly than in conventional cooking, allowing the flavours to blend more fully. Owners of slow cookers often say that the resulting dish has that ‘second day’ taste right away. The ingredients also come out particularly tender, as moisture from the steam works its way around the pot. This makes slow cooking an ideal way to prepare tough cuts of meat or very crisp, fresh vegetables that require a lot of boiling, and does not result in the same loss of nutrition.
Slow cookers are not expensive, and can be purchased for as little as £16.69 at Tesco. There are also a new generation of crock pots that have been made specifically with energy saving in mind, including the Morphy Richards Ecolectric slow cooker, which uses 44% less energy than its rival products. It’s £34.95 at Ethical Superstore.
Image: A Salopian