Every great cook has a wide range of equipment, tools and gadgets, but not everyone knows how to use each to its greatest benefit. The crockpot, or slow cooker can be an under – utilized gem in your collection. They have been around for years with good reason: they can work their own magic at the flip of a switch!
Crockpots, or aka slow cookers, are not expensive kitchen equipment, and they can last years. Most modern crockpots come with digital features, cleaner more sleek overall streamlined looks and easy to clean features. They have a wonderful reputation for taking frugal cuts of meat, and with very little work and uncomplicated steps, turn out excellent family friendly meals, buffet favorites and even elegant dinner party features.
Crockpot cooking has always been associated with economizing in the kitchen. It goes without saying that they are excellent for making tasty dishes from less expensive cuts of meat, (lean and expensive cuts of meat actually don’t benefit from slow cooking) but there are also other savings to be attributed to using a crockpot. Energy-wise, running a crockpot for a good portion of the day is more energy efficient than an oven, counter top convection toaster oven, or broiler. Besides using them for meat dishes, they can be put to work cooking dried beans, breads, leftovers, and desserts. Yes, even desserts!
There are numerous healthy benefits to slow cooking food in comparison to frying and some roasting methods that require added fats and oils. Most slow-cooking involves water and the homemade goodness you get from soups, stews and even oatmeal.
Using a slow cooker is very easy. Many tried and true methods involve preparing items, usually in layers, and simply turning on a switch. There is also the added benefit of preparing a crockpot meal the day before. It makes for a less rushed morning, and gives you a chance to check again before leaving it for the day on a busy morning. How easy is easy? Many recipes call for braising or searing most meats before adding them to a crockpot. This adds more flavor to the dish and prevents meat from drying out. Searing the meat with a little flour and seasonings ensures a caramelized crust, which adds to the broth or sauce in the pot, and will allow the liquids to slowly thicken and be flavored at the same time. The various vegetables added to any dish allow for another flavor enhancement as they simmer and become part of the dish. Just pile it in.
Boosting flavors of any crockpot dish is even easier when you are able to add seasonings and spices to the pot in bigger quantities. Consider using whole rosemary sprigs, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, even whole peppercorns and allow them to slowly emit their essence. Because they are large and whole they are much easier to remove before serving.