Tips for slow cooker cooking

Slow Cooking

Author: Lauren Coleman

About four years ago my Mum convinced me I needed a slow cooker in my life and so I began the search for a little crock pot suitable for a couple. I was tremendously excited when it arrived. So excited it remained on a shelf for many years gathering dust. You see I had completely misled myself. I had convinced myself you throw the ingredients in the pot, stick it on low and then come home from work to a delicious and hearty meal.

This is obviously the point of a slow cooker but I had completely missed you need to cook some of the ingredients first. Who wants to fry off their onions while they’re putting their face on in the morning?! I also discovered most concoctions needed around six hours to cook which didn’t suit my usual working patterns.

However, at the start of this year I decided to give the slow cooking malarky another whirl. My cooker is very old school with just a high and low setting. I don’t have a timer or any other fancy wizardry which is a shame as I would probably use it a lot more if I had the ability to set it to come on six hours before I was expecting to return home. My version doesn’t seem to be available anymore but it’s very similar to this VonShef slow cooker; 1.5 litre capacity which has a removable dish to take straight to the table if you so wish.

Clearly I’m a complete novice and I need all the advice you lovely lot can throw at me. So far I’ve only tried three recipes and I have to say they’re not bad. Each of them needs some refining but our Thai Red Lentil Curry, Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Risotto and Cauliflower Dahl have all had the thumbs up. The last two dishes are from a Sainsbury’s book where all the recipes need five or less ingredients as well as a few store cupboard essentials.

So far I’ve learned a few things

  • A slow cooker doesn’t really save much time but it does help to use your time more effectively. For example it’s much more convenient for me to prepare Sunday night’s dinner in the morning. And you feel extra smug knowing you’ve already got the dinner covered.
  • You can throw in onions without cooking them first, though they do remain a little ‘firm’. I’ve been cooking mine the night before and then sticking them in the fridge.
  • I was under the impression you’d need loads of stock or liquid if something was bubbling away for hours on end. Turns out it’s like a vacuum in the crock pot and so liquid doesn’t really reduce. I’ve been filling mine to about two thirds full so it doesn’t leak.
  • Apparently having a good neb of your dish increases cooking time by about 20 minutes as the heat escapes, so resist the urge to lift the lid and take a peek inside.
  • All my meals have been veggie so far but I’ve read to put root vegetables near the bottom and meat near the top. Ingredients such as rice, pasta and herbs don’t need to cook for the full time and can be added part way through.
  • As I said I really am a beginner at this lark so would love it if you would drop your comments, tips and tricks for using a slow cooker. What are you favourite recipes and how do you use yours?

    Oh and apologies for the ever so slightly random image. I thought a pic of my slow cooker on its own wasn’t particularly inspiring so instead you can see where I store mine. I say ‘see’ but it’s hiding behind the leg of my trolley. Well it’s kitchen related at least….

    Lauren likes Paris, Prosecco and Paint Charts
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    52 thoughts on “Slow Cooking

    1. I am also yet to be convinced by the slow cooker as like you preparing food before work will just never work. The sound of that risotto does sound great though so I may have to give it another try. With the timer thing you can get a plug in timer from amazon for about £6 so that the slow cooker comes on when you want it to. X

    2. I love slow cooking, but you have the means to make it so much easier right there in your kitchen! The lower oven of your aga and a cast iron pan- then it really is one pot stuff… Plus you can do delish things like pulled pork, stews, curries etc. Give it a whirl with your Aga and pass the leccy slow cooker on to a friend!

      1. Excellent point Lucy! My stove is a model that doesn’t need to be on all the time, however this is a fab tip for the weekend when we’re more likely to leave it on all day.

    3. I’ve just used my slow cooker for the first time since we got it two and a half years ago. Ours also doesn’t have a timer and most recipes called for less time than we’d be out in a normal day.
      It was only the other day I had a Eureka! moment to use a timer switch (like you might use for lamps) and use that to set it going after I’ve left the house.

      I’m definitely not in the mood to be browning meat or frying onions before I commute to work so have been experimenting with recipes that don’t call for it and just chucking it in in the morning. So far so good, not necessarily a time saver but it feels good to be multi-tasking and knowing I’ll be coming home to a ready to eat meal.

      1. Thanks Harriet, I think I’m using the lack of timer as an excuse! I should definitely dig my timer switch out.

    4. Morning! Lovely kitchen.

      I also recently got a slow cooker by the power of a wedding gift list but also have not used it as much as I would like. However I received a book for my Christmas called Slow Cooked by miss South and she is all for just throwing it all in and pressing on. She doesn’t brown meat ect first so it is super easy. I have mainly cooked pulled pork but have my eye on many recipes from the book.

      Last night however my slow cooker proved super useful as I was having a lot of guests over for dinner and I put the rice in whilst I was running around cleaning and tidying and it kept it nice and hot until I was ready to serve! Ideal!

      1. Thanks Stef! Great tip on the rice. If it’s on the hob and left it just ends up congealed doesn’t it?
        Must check out the book, Thanks for the suggestion x

    5. We have one that so far has only cooked Chilli and meat joints. I’m a Veggie the husband is not so he’s been using it when we have people round as you can knock up a big batch of something without having to worry about keeping an eye on it (the pulled pork has proved a particular favourite). I’m desperate to try out some veggie recipes though. The Butternut Squash risotto sounds yummy!!

      1. Hi Alex, we’re in a similar situation, I don’t really eat meat but my other half does. I think he’d be very tempted by the pulled pork.

    6. Oh my… I LOVE your kitchen!! We are currently renovating our little cottage and unfortunately the previous owners put in a “modern” kitchen about 10 years ago and it’s hideous – we are in the process of stripping it back and piecing together some more traditional units and sink, and if you don’t mind I would love to pin your kitchen for inspiration! Gorgeous.

      On the slow cooker – I have never had one but although the complete opposite, I really love my pressure cooker! It’s like the same results as a slow cooker but in a tenth of the time!

      1. Aww thanks Maddy. You are more than welcome to pin!
        I’ve always though a pressure cooker would be huge and rather scientific! Does it take up much room?

        1. Ha yes it certainly does – but it comes in handy when making a very large pot of soup (my record is 8 tubbits of soup!) It lives at the back of my cupboard so can be a total mish to get it out!

    7. You definitely need to make pulled pork in it as others have already suggested! Al usually is in charge and makes up a batch of Slimming World friendly BBQ sauce the night before, then trim all of the fat off of your pork shoulder joint (we buy the Sainos basics one as it’s a steal and as it’s being cooked so long you don’t have to worry about it being tough) and just whack it all in together. Use the High setting if you do it for around 6 hours but if you’re going to be out longer then put it on low and you could really cook it for anything up to 10 hours. It will easily fall apart, and then just serve it in a wholemeal bun with homemade coleslaw or pickles and loads of salad. There’s so much we normally have enough for pulled pork tacos the next day as well!

    8. I love my slow cooker! Since getting it for Christmas I’ve used it loads. I did roast chicken in it the other week, just bunged it in with some celery, carrott and onions and left it to do it’s thing on a medium setting for 6 hours. I just popped it in the oven with the roasties at the end to crisp up the skin. Really was delicious and the juices it created in the pot led to a delicious homemade gravy. Thai curry works well as well and I’ve left a steak chilli cooking away this morning. Everyone should embrace the slow cooker! Next on the list is a KitchenAid…a girl can dream 😉

    9. I love my slow cooker but only cooked things like chicken and chorizo, beef stews and tagines. I work from home so can get it going on my tea break and have something ready as soon as I pick up my wee one from childcare which works for me on busy days. It also makes meat super tender and toddler friendly.
      The other night I stuck some chicken, tinned tomatoes and veg in there at 5pm and whacked it on high for about 2 hours. sS by the time we had the little one bathed and in bed we had something ready for 7.30 rather than me starting again with peeling and chopping. So yeah not really a time saver as such but it can work round your free time better.
      I haven’t got the liquid thing sussed yet and am finding sauces a little runny. Definitely keen to try Thai red lentil curry. Yummy!

      1. Nicola, sounds as if you have the slow cooker timing down to tea. Definitely agree it’s great for days I’m working from home and so nice to have a meal ready when the working day is over.

    10. I have had a slow cooker that my mum offloaded to me a couple of years ago. I think I’ve used it once… I just can’t enthuse about it enough to give it a proper go. If I had an Aga there’s no way I’d use a slow cooker! So desperate for an Aga! ps love the light switches!

      1. Thanks Victoria, it’s quite expensive to run and doesn’t power our hot water (it’s a model you don’t have to leave on all the time) We’re experimenting with keeping it on low over the weekend though so I’m up for trying out new recipes and brushing up on my cooking skills x

    11. I’ve used my slow cooker a few times – it is a bit of a pain having to get up 20 minutes early to prep the food but it’s great coming in from work to have your dinner ready to go. My problem is the dishes I’ve made (chilli, stew etc) tend to come out very thin and watery, even when I reduce the amount of liquid I put in. Has anyone got any tips for thickening up a sauce? I’ve heard cornflour might be good – do you just stir it in at the end?

      1. Cornflour at the end will work a treat. I haven’t been adding extra liquid to the slow cooker when using it x

    12. We use our slow cooker for cooking our Sunday dinner roasts – silverside beef, pork fillet and roast chicken is so tasty if cooked all day on a low setting. For beef and pork we then just shred the meat and pop it back in the slow cooker with some gravy – it’s much handier than trying to juggle lots of jobs at once. We’re not very good at using the slow cooker for normal meals though, I’m just not organised enough yet!

      1. Still sounds like you’re getting a lot of use out of it Suzy. All this talk of food is making me very hungry. Thank goodness it’s lunchtime!

    13. Oh my god woman your kitchen is a total DREAM (snap on the Le Creuset stoneware btw).

      I’m with most of you on the good intentions when it comes to slow cookers/crock pots but must have used mine only a handful in the last few years. Good tip on the no peeping thing, i’m a b*gger for it. Anyway, I’d love to hear some hearty January warming recipes from everyone too! x

      1. Ha ha Karen. I’m actually tempted to make the kitchen a bit less traditional and a bit funkier but maybe not now 😉

        1. It’s very you. Although I bet its a nightmare if you have anyone clumsy crashing around dropping things… i lost so many wine glasses to my old belfast sink.

    14. If you’re seriously looking to shortcut then you can’t go wrong with canned ‘Eazy Onions’ which are precooked in olive oil. Incredibly lazy I know.

    15. My husband got a slow cooker from Freecycle when he went to university 9 years ago! It is ceramic and has two settings – on and off! It is still working to this day although I think we may be due an upgrade sometime soon. We only tend to use it on our days off but I also love that satisfaction of knowing dinner is covered. I need to find the recipe out again as we did a delicious chinese chicken broth a couple of times.

      I bought a soup maker last year, which I would highly recommend. Again you need to fry off the ingredients but then it only takes 20 minutes to cook and makes enough for four large bowls! Because this is so quick I often make a couple of batches of different soups and freeze them.

      I love your kitchen and am slightly jealous of the Aga. I work at my boss’ house and he has an Aga so I do get to use it occasionally. I can imagine you can do the most amazing baking with it.

      1. If only Claire! It’s an Esse rather than an Aga but absolutely the same cooking principles. All these comments about the stove are making me feel guilty about my lack of love for it. We really don’t know how to use it. It’s a travesty really.
        Soup maker sounds fab. Did you ever try soups in your slow cooker?

        1. Yes we did soups on the sc and I know it sounds odd but I found them watery. I don’t use the sc as often as I should because I can find a lot of recipes for them sound a bit boring.

    16. Hi Lauren

      Every time I read a Rock My Style post it’s like you’ve read my mind!

      I got a slow cooker just after Christmas, a Morphy Richards one which is great as the inner bit comes out & you can sear the meat in it & just pop in back in. Like you I somehow forgot I would actually still have to chop all the veg & sear the meat!! My daughter thought it was like the magic porridge pot & we could just say “Cook little pot cook” (I wish). What it does though as you mention is use time effectively with no last min stress & a feeling of achievement once it goes on (I need to get bigger goals!).

      I’m def going to try the pulled pork after everyone’s advice, I had put off doing it for some reason but sounds like it’s a must & def going to get the timer (great idea btw, thanks to those that mentioned it).

      We’re on a healthy mission at the moment so trying to find slow cooker recipes that are also healthy – love to hear of some if anyone has any?


      1. Hi Grainne, I promise we’re not reading your mind! But it’s great to hear we’re all on the same wavelength. I’ve loved reading all the comments today.

        I have found a few recipes through Pinterest I’d like to try but will keep you posted if I find something super healthy x

    17. I have to admit that I am yet to be convinced by slow cookers! I love my mum dearly but years of watery slow cooker casseroles have left me rather anti them! (To be fair to my poor ol’ mum, she was having to work full time and cook dinners for 2 very hungry children all on her own!)

      If I’m honest I have only recently gotten over my complete aversion to a casserole or stew of any kind (again, mainly due to my fear of having something watery and and a bit meh!).
      But after the wedding I used some of our wedding vouchers to purchase a cast iron pot (I’d like to say it wasn’t because it was pretty, but….!) Anyway, I got a shiny red one and now have added a proper beef chilli and yummy beef tagine to my repertoire! I love smelling the food bubbling away on the stove while I’m sat snuggled up in a blanket binge watching Breaking Bad! So maybe I will have to eventually bite the bullet and test our a slow cooker! That risotto sounds super yummy!

      Oh and your kitchen……I love it! I am especially envious of that beautiful sink!

      1. Thanks Rebecca x
        Isn’t it smashing when you add a new recipe to your repertoire and master it down to a tee? I love it when that happens – Greek Salad Omelette is my new one but that’s a whole different post!

    18. I LOVE my slow cooker. You need to experiment though, I found most dishes that say you need to brown the meat or onions first actually you dont need to bother. Just stick it all in on low and it will be ok for 8-9 hours, which is most people working day not 6 which I would never be home in time for. I have found that facebook has three or four good slow cooker pages, and people share there recipes.
      Also Bolognese sauce has never tasted so good since ive made it in the slow cooker, especially with turkey mince. Also better for you than beef mince.
      Pork in cola is ACE too.

      1. Hi Madi, yep definitely finding theres a bit of a learning curve with it. All the recipes I’ve tried definitely need a few tweaks. Will have a browse of Facebook for some recipes. Thanks for the suggestions.

    19. Lauren, I’m all about the slow cooker at the moment. My husband got one for Christmas and we haven’t stopped using it! One of my favourites has been macaroni cheese, although I have to say it only takes 3 hours ish so not good for a working day. I’ve got a few recipes from Pinterest which have been good.

      I just love coming home from work to the smell of dinner and it has definitely helped cut down on the number of naughty takeaways!

      I shall be trying the Thai curry recommendation – thank you!

      1. Let me know how you get on with it Lucy. I really liked it but would separately do a load of baby corn and mange tout with it next time for a bit of crunch.

    20. I love my slow cooker, and use it probably 2 to 3 times a week!
      As a lot of people have said don’t bother searing stuff before hand if you are cooking something for 8 hours or more, as it really doesn’t make a difference.
      Also if you want to save time, prep everything and place into the pot in the evening and put the whole removable slow cooker dish in the fridge. The next morning just take the dish out, put into the slow cooker and turn it on.
      Also you need to put very very little water/liquid in (less than half a cup) otherwise it will be very watery and not very nice.

      I make lots of soup in mine in the winter, any soup recipe will pretty much work in the slow cooker too.

      I also love making shredded chicken in mine for burrito bowls (just put chicken breasts with some salsa on low for the day and shred when you get home).

      I used this recipe at Christmas for my gammon and it was delicious, it’s the only way I will cook it from now on.

      1. Hi Candice, wow you’re getting loads of use out of yours. I’ll give soup a whirl next. Mine is titchy so not sure I’d manage to get a gammon in there!

    21. This post is very timely for me as I have just got a slow cooker and I am still getting to grips with it. I am hoping it will save me some time in the evenings. I am on the lookout for some easy, healthy recipes to try. Definitely going to try pulled pork next after all the comments above!

    22. Funnily enough, I just read your blog post while finding out earlier the other day about crock pots from an American friend. I had never heard of this before… Interesting for me to read how you use it and to find out in the comments what other readers use it for! The name in French is rather lovely, so I thought I’d share it with you: “mijoteuse”. Enjoy!

    23. Why not just just use the simmer oven on your ESSE? We have an Old gas fired AGA and use the simmer oven almost daily for slow cooking… You have such a nice cooker I thought you’d just use that instead of a Crock pot……… I love your kitchen by the way… cheers from across the pond in rural Massachusetts, USA!

    24. I’m with Brent and all the others who comment on your lovely cooker. Ok. So it’s an Esse. Don’t be afraid of it. We’ve had our two oven gas Aga for two months now. We love it. Makes the best roast chicken you’ve ever had in our life. Plop your chicken in a pan, rub some butter on it (I use goose fat), salt, pepper. No need to cover. Put in the middle of your roasting oven for twenty minutes then transfer to simmer oven for at least two hours (i’ve even left in for four hours and was good). As far as a crock pot. I only use mine if I’m taking things to pitch in. I cook what I’m bringing first in the Aga then put in the crock pot.
      Lastly, very neat how the handles on your hobs are off set to open at an angle. Never seen that before.

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