Last Sunday the clocks went back, signalling the true end of summer even after weeks of October rainfall. While this meant an extra hour in bed, the temporary joy of a lie-in is offset by the fact dark, cold mornings are just around the corner.
With the advance of autumn, you should be preparing for the wetter, chilly climate. Retrieving your favourite jumpers and knitwear from the back of the wardrobe should be one of your first moves. Beyond clothing, another way can warm yourself this season is with great home-cooked meals. While the lack of daylight can make it feel like you’ve got even less time to do your chores, you always have time to create delicious comfort food with slow cooking.
Generally a one-step process, the time and effort saved when slow cooking is just one advantage of this classic cooking method. Coming home from work with a hearty meal is something anyone can achieve, with this handy guide from NEFF we’ve compiled everything you could possibly want to know about slow cooking.
Whether you’re looking to warm yourself after a long day out of the house, or are just looking for a way to get tasty meals with cheaper cuts of meat then slow-cooked meals are for you. Read on for more information on how to create the perfect dinner this autumn.
What Can You Create With Slow Cooking? A Lot!
On face value, most associate slow cooking with stews often loaded with cuts of beef and chunky vegetables. While this hearty meal is absolutely essential for any home cook worth their salt, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. You can create a full week’s worth of meals, all with the same simple steps. Just a few types of food you can create with a slow-cooked include:
Stews & Casseroles
The classic. So simple and versatile, there is no one great recipe for a stew although the most delicious ones have something in common. Using leftovers from the pantry, this is especially true of vegetables. Within reason, you can throw almost anything into a great stew.
In terms of meat using the lower quality cuts is often encouraged, stick with red meat for the best results but experiment as you like. Ensuring the liquid broth you cook the ingredients thickens over time is one thing that makes your dish that much more nourishing. Use flour when braising your meat to get a thick, gravy-like consistency to the end product.
Often when we talk about these meat broths we use the terms ‘stew’, ‘cassorole’ and even ‘hotpot’ interchangeably, but what is the difference? In terms of end flavour basically nothing. The terms are related to where the heat comes from as your dish cooks. Stews are created with bottom heat only, like when using a cast iron pot on a stove. Casseroles, on the other hand, are often baked in the oven and as such are heated from all angles.
Another primary difference is the covering of the pot while cooking, a stew is also cooked with the lid on and doing so helps keep the temperature inside high and keeps liquids from fully evaporating. Casseroles can be covered but are typically less liquid heavy as a stew, as the open-top allows more liquid to leave the dish.
In an age of single-use products, soup makers may not feel like something that is of limited value. However, for all their bells and whistles there is little reason to invest in one when you can slow cook a homemade soup yourself using versatile cast iron or dedicated slow cookers.
Typically created on a base of high-quality stock, soups are anything you want them to be! Created for lunch especially, being able to create a large batch at once means you can sort work meals for a whole week in one batch. Flavours and influences are endless, select any culture and they will have an iconic recipe you can adapt.
Taking our above information about stews and casseroles you can consider the real difference between the three ways is the amount of liquid involved. Soups, stews then casseroles respectively mean you can adapt your recipe based on what you have the most of in your kitchen.
An underused way of slow cooking is creating a curry. Considering red meats come into their own, making a lamb curry in a slow cooker is a sure-fire win. When it comes to the origins for your spices you have continent’s worth of flavours to choose from. One thing to avoid if using a slow cooker to create a delicious curry is anything that uses dairy. This means yoghurts and Thai-inspired coconut milk is off the cards. As over a slow heat, these kinds of milk spilt and congeal to a disgusting end product. If you want to add some yoghurt to cool a particularly spicy curry then it’s best done at the end. When it does come to adding spice, be careful adding the chillis! When slow cooking the heat is brought out much more prominently over time. Either scale back the amount added, or add towards the end of the cooking process to avoid numb tongues!
Starting Slow Cooking Is As Cheap, Or Expensive, As You Like
For creating great stews, you can use an everyday good quality saucepan. Just ensure you are stirring every so often to prevent any ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is especially true if it’s your first time slow cooking, as a classic error for the inexperienced is putting the heat on too high! Higher heat means things are much more likely to stick and burn so if you are testing the waters without investing in a more specialised piece of kit.
Cast Iron Pot
The traditional king of slow cooking. Even if you don’t love your time in the kitchen a cast iron pot is an essential investment and one that can literally last decades. Incredible tough and an outstanding conductor of heat, this is the ideal way to get your slow-cooked meals perfect every time.
While a saucepan cannot be put into the oven, a good piece of cast iron is built for baking or on the hob. This makes it perfect for stews, casseroles and pretty much anything else you ever want to slow cook! The only disadvantage is that the bulletproof design of cast iron means it can be extremely heavy, especially family-sized pots. Test this in your local kitchenware store, and if you struggle lifting it around consider our final alternative for slow cooking.
Dedicated Slow Cooker
If you want to be able to leave your slow cooker running while you’re at work you may want a safer, all-in-one solution. Nowadays a dedicated slow cooking appliance is accessible and entry-level models are even cheaper than cast iron alternatives.
What they take up in cupboard and counter space they make up for in convenience. Depending on your model you may have a built-in timer, or you can buy one cheaply to plug directly into your wall outlet. Set yours to turn on a few hours before you come home and return to a hearty meal.
Easy to use and consistent, once you are regularly creating slow-cooked meal it’s a sure-fire investment. Want to take it to the next level? The latest slow cookers are also wi-fi enabled, meaning you can get full control of your slow-cooker from anywhere and adjust the heat accordingly.
Slow Cooking Ingredients, The Essentials
Although you can use any meat you wish to create a lovely meal, the best to use is red, fatty red meats like beef. The beauty of slow cooking is lower quality cuts are turned into delicious meals over hours of cooking. To get the best results to combine a rich stock with the meat and plenty of aromatics.
Beef, lamb and pork are all great first time meats for slow cooking. The fat content of these is key to delivering a tasty end product. If you are set on using white meat then use the darker parts of the bird, such as thigh meat.
The beauty of veg in when cooking like this is that you have an endless number of options, you can literally utilise whatever is in your pantry. Root vegetables often work the best, and carrots, onion and celery are absolutely essential aromatics for getting that great homecooked smell.
When adding your vegetables place the harder roots, for example, the potatoes at the bottom as these will receive the most intense heat and won’t break up. More delicate vegetables such as broccoli can be placed higher up to preserve the structure and flavour.
Meat and vegetables should be your main staples of any slow-cooked meals. You can add a variety of other foods, but beware as certain starchy foods will reduce to mush when cooked over low heat. That means rice and pasta should be prepared separately to anything you are cooking for hours.
However, a few foods that do suit the slow cooker include quinoa, lentils and beans. Adding beans, in particular, is a great way to bulk up a slow-cooked meal. Pre-soaking any beans you use is essential though, ideally overnight. This means the added beans can cook properly, as even an extended slow cook may not be enough to fully release the flavours inside.