The Wonders of the Slow Cooker

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Jan 07, 2015 by James

For many people, the slow cooker (often referred to as a crock pot) is a relic of the early to mid 1970s, and along with its contemporaries, flared trousers, very dodgy haircuts and the three-day week, it doesn't really seem to have a place in the modern kitchen.

 

Making a comeback?

In fact, sales of slow cookers have been rising markedly over the past couple of years. It is probably no coincidence that such a boom has coincided with an economic recession: slow cookers are famously cheap to run, using about as much electricity as a light bulb, and to buy (prices start at around £10). They are great for making delicious meals out of leftovers and the cheaper cuts of meat.

However, for a generation raised on oven cooking, and unfamiliar with the notion of slow cooking, they can seem a bit intimidating - how do you use them, exactly? Others believe - mistakenly - that crock pots are only any good for making casseroles. So, what can a modern slow cooker do, and why would anybody want one?

 

Simmering

Most slow cookers comprise a stoneware or glass basin, which is placed in a housing that contains a heating element. The entire unit is small enough to place on a work surface or table. The ingredients, along with appropriate liquid, are placed in the cooking pot and the heating element is switched on. The slow cooker then reaches the appropriate heat, and cooks the ingredients by simmering. There is little, if any evaporation during slow cooking, since the water vapour generated in the process gathers on the underside of the lid and drips back into the pot, which is why it is important to use sufficient, but not too much, liquid to cook with.

One of the best things about slow cooking is its convenience. As a general guide, a dish cooked on a low setting will take around 8-10 hours, a medium setting takes 5-7 hours and a high setting takes 4-6 hours. Thus it is possible to put ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning and switch it on, head out for the day and return to a freshly cooked meal - and have just the one pot to wash up!

 

Variety

Although stews are one of the easiest things to cook in a slow cooker, they are far from the only option. It is easy to cook cakes, puddings, pie fillings (even the whole pie), bread and soups in them. In fact, most conventional recipes can be converted for a slow cooker - just adjust the cooking times as per the guidelines given above, and cut the amount of liquid used by around half. If there is still too much liquid towards the end of cooking time, taking the lid off the crock pot can help to thicken it up.

Thanks to their recent revival, there are many great slow cooker recipes available online, and a few minutes spent looking through them is bound to inspire even the most reluctant cook. They might be a bit of a seventies throwback, but for anybody looking for a cheap, easy way to create nutritious and delectable dishes, it really is difficult to beat the slow cooker.