I hear a lot from people who like the idea of slow cooking but who struggle to get the result they want out of their slow cooker. It does take a while to get used to so here are 5 tips to help you with troubleshooting your slow cooker.
Problem 1. My slow cooker overcooks things or dries them out.
This is a really common problem from the people who talk to me. In most cases, they want to batch cook and sothey’ve bought a really large slow cooker, i.e. 6Litre/Quart.
You’ll find most recipes (including mine) are created using a 4 or 4.5 Litre/Quart cookers unless stated. That’s because this is the most common size. Since slow cookers work best when they are 2/3 – 3/4 full, your big old baby bath isn’t full enough to work [properly and its extra power is drying out or over cooking your food. You have a few options:
1. Scale up the ingredients by 50% but keep the times about the same. Your more powerful slow cooker should cope with the bigger amount just fine. This works well for things like chillies and stews. You may need to experiment a bit but this may well solve your problems.
2. Reduce the cooking time. This takes a bit of trial and error but start with reducing time by half and checking periodically from then on.
3. You could cook on Low when High is called for but keep times and amounts the same. Try this the first time on a day when you’re not depending on the meal to be done for a very precise time.
4. You can use a smaller cooking container inside your slow cooker, such as a pyrex dish or standard casserole dish. I do this anyway for things like baked custards, meatloaves and some desserts. This does slightly defeat the object of having a big slow cooker though!
If your average sized 4.5 Litre/Quart cooker is drying food out, check and see if it has a steam vent. It shouldn’t have but some do (including my smaller slow cooker). I solved this by using an elastoplast (band aid) which I replace periodically. Other people have used wadded up tin foil etc. You can be creative but that steam shouldn’t be escaping.
This, by the way is why slow cooker recipes start with less liquid in them as they don’t allow for any condensation.
Problem 2. I can’t get my slow cooker clean.
I have had many a battle with the residue of a caked-on potato bake or, worse still, the baked-on caramel from something like candied parsnips. The key thing you need to avoid is scratching away the smooth surface from your slow cooker’s insides. This just makes it harder and harder to clean.
I soak the pot (some use a dryer sheet in the water overnight and say it works wonders – I sometimes use a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda) and then attack with a plastic scourer designed for non-stick pans. Don’t use a brillo pad.
Problem 3. I get a white residue on my slow cooker, especially after I cook things like beans, and can’t clean it off.
This happens a lot around here as we have hard water. I also like to cook beans a lot and they leave a similar residue.
It really doesn’t matter becausem as long as you have carefully washed the slow cooker with soap and water and there is no other food residue, your slow cooker is essentially clean. If it really bothers you then vinegar will remove it or you can cook something acidic such as a tomato sauce to get rid of it.
Problem 4. I forget to put the slow cooker on
This happens to me a lot, especially now I’m only using the slow cooker 3 or so times a week. I’ve started putting the slow cooker out in the spot I sit for breakfast. It’s quite the hint.
Problem 5. By the time I’ve thought of dinner, it’s too late to use the crockpot
Admittedly, you have to plan, usually at least 5 hours ahead and ideally the night before to use your slow cooker to it’s full effect. I honestly think meal planning can be helpful for so many people but here’s another couple of options.
Fish – fish cooks really well in the slow cooker and most filleted fish will cook in just a couple of hours. Add any of your normal flavourings and a little oil. You may want to cook on a piece of foil for easy clean-up.
Cook overnight – I’ll often cook something like a Bolognese over night and then cool it the next morning, ready to go into a traditional oven lasagne the next evening. This may not work so well if you’re out all day at work and need to get cooled food put away but could work great on a Friday or Saturday night so you can package up food for the freezer the next day to eat in the week.
Problem 6. I don’t have time to cook in the mornings.
A friend of mine has solved this really well. She preps everything in the evening and puts it in a large tupperware in her fridge overnight. Then she puts it in the slow cooker the next morning. You can do this with browned beef but I wouldn’t use this technique for sausages or chicken where you might quickly seal them in a hot pan to get colour on them. These are best left unbrowned which will be less visually appealing but will give you a tasty meal which won’t give you food poisoning. Always a bonus, I find.
I hope this sorts most of your slow-cooking problems. Let me know if not and I’ll go solve them