When you are ready to cook with your crock pot, it is convenient to have an idea of how to cook food in it. Another way is to have a few slow cooker recipes that you can follow to cook that perfect meal. And at the same time you must know beyond the recipe with crock pot cooking techniques!
You’ve picked out your crock pot, or dragged the crock pot you’ve been ignoring out of the pantry. You’ve read or re-read the Owner’s Manual, washed your crock pot and checked it for any safety issues, and have now set it up in a safe spot in your kitchen. You are ready to start cooking!
- 1 Slow Cooker Recipe Overview
- 1.1 Brown The Meat And Poultry
- 1.2 Soften Vegetables
- 1.3 Pasta And Rice Are Better Cooked Separately
- 1.4 Dairy Products Are Best Added At The End
- 1.5 Seafood May Be Too Delicate
- 1.6 How To Handle Dried Beans And Peas
- 1.7 Herbs And Spices
Slow Cooker Recipe Overview
Before you start cooking, there are a few techniques you should know about that will improve the results of your crock pot meals. Even though each recipe you try may not reflect these procedures, you may want to consider giving them a try in order to improve the results of your finished meal.
Brown The Meat And Poultry
When most folks think about crock pot cooking, they think that it’s all about throwing everything in the pot in the morning and coming home to dinner at night. Well, you can do that if you wish, but with a little extra preparation you will see better results in your finished crock pot meal.
Browning meat and poultry will enhance the color and flavor. The process of the slow cooker naturally will dilute the juices produced by cooking the meat, as steam is rising and gathering on the lid and dripping back into the food.
This is the way the crock pot cooks, so the meat flavor will hold up better if it has some richness to begin with. The rich, dark flavors you get when you brown meat and poultry will come through much better in the finished dish.
Dredge Meat In Flour
Once again, the liquid that’s cooking in the crock pot is constantly being diluted by the process of steam gathering on the lid, then dripping down into the food. This is supposed to happen, however it does require a bit of preparation to prevent a watered-down taste and flavor to your meal. Dredging the meat first in a mixture of flour and seasons before browning will give your soups and stews a thicker and richer texture and flavor.
Leave Skin On Poultry While Cooking
Many recipes call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. However, chicken breasts can dry out pretty quickly cooked for an extended period of time. Leaving the skins on, then removing after cooking is completed, will help reserve the moistness that would be lost otherwise.
Another option is to use chicken thighs or drumsticks instead of chicken breasts if you can. The thighs and legs tend to be moister and stand up better to crock pot cooking. You can still take the skin off after the cooking is completed if you like.
Yes, you can just cut the vegetables and throw them in the crock pot. Your meal will be just fine. However, vegetables, especially root vegetables, cook slower than meat does in a crock pot, so to get the timing right, it helps to give your vegetables a head start.
In addition, if you sauté your vegetables before adding them to the crock pot, you get a chance to caramelize them a little, start breaking down those sugars that make the flavor of the vegetables sing out. You can also add spices and herbs to your sauté pan, enhancing the aroma and impact that the spices have on the finished dish.
Cut And Cook Vegetables According To Density
Very solid vegetables such as parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots should be cut small and put in the bottom of the crock pot, or around the sides. Use small to medium size potatoes, scrub them and leave the skins on to preserve their shape. Put them in the bottom of the crock pot, also.
Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and whole kernel corn will take less time, and, of course, peas should be added only at the last few minutes to maintain their fresh green color. The same would apply to leafy greens like spinach and kale. Greens will tend to lose their texture and color if allowed to cook too long in the crock pot.
Pasta And Rice Are Better Cooked SeparatelyIf you find a recipe that calls for pasta or rice added in with the other ingredients, you may want to reconsider doing that. Pasta and rice will break down and get mushy in the crock pot. You can add uncooked pasta or rice to the crock pot during the last hour or so, but I prefer to cook it separately so I can control the process. Then, when the pasta or rice is cooked just al dente, you can add it to your crock pot during the last few minutes just to soak up the flavor.
Dairy Products Are Best Added At The End
No matter what a recipe says, it’s always better to stir in your sour cream, milk, or cream after the crock pot meal has completed cooking. Then, turn off the crock pot, stir in the milk, and let it stand for a minute to get warm. You would hate your beautiful stroganoff, chowder, or bisque to curdle!
Seafood May Be Too DelicateAnother tender food is just about any kind of seafood. Fillets of fish will break apart and disappear if allowed to cook in a crock pot for six or eight hours. Shrimp will get rubbery if cooked too long. If you think about it, you would never boil shrimp for more than several minutes on top of the stove, so why would you want to cook them for six hours in a crock pot?
Just like any tender food, no matter what the recipe says, adding seafood during the last twenty minutes or less of cooking time is preferable to putting in at the beginning.
How To Handle Dried Beans And Peas
There is some disagreement about whether you need to soak dried beans before you put them in the crock pot, or whether you should only use fully cooked beans. You’ll see recipes for using soaked, cooked, and even some that just tell you to throw the dried beans in the crock pot, as is.
So, what are you supposed to do? I would error on the side of caution. I wouldn’t use dried beans in any recipe. I would at least soak them overnight before using in a recipe, just like you would before cooking them alone in the crock pot.
If you’re still nervous about adding soaked beans to a dish, use cooked beans instead. You may have to adjust the cooking time a bit if the recipe calls for dried beans and you’re using cooked beans.
Herbs And SpicesWhenever possible, use whole dried herbs instead of ground or crushed herbs and spices. Large whole leaf herbs release their flavor more slowly than sprinkles of ground or crushed herbs. If a dish is simmering together for 5 or 6 hours, you want those herbs to simmer along with everything else and not disappear during the first hour or so.
If you use fresh herbs, add them during the last hour or two of cooking so they maintain their beautiful color and delicate flavor.