Here’s everything you need to know to master the art of slow cooking – and we promise, it’s easier than you think!
Want to make a great tasting, budget-friendly meal with minimum effort? It’s time to try your hand at slow cooking. Thanks to popular shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules, this time-honoured cooking method is making a big comeback.
And it’s easy to see why – slow cooking is easy to master, takes cheaper cuts of meat and turns them into tender, juicy meals with short preparation times and minimal fuss. Plus with everything in one pot, this means less washing up too.
So to get you started, we spoke to the folks at our local Stockland Butcher and Homeware stores to give you this expert guide to the art of slow cooking.
There are many ways to slow cook food – and different recipes will call for different methods. Whether you simmer in a stockpot, bake in a casserole dish or stew in a crock-pot or electric slow cooker, you’ll need one of these four pieces of equipment to get you started.
A stockpot is simply a large pot, usually made from stainless steel or aluminium. These are designed to cook with direct heat on a stovetop, just like a saucepan. A good quality stockpot should have a heavy base so you can brown the meat before adding other ingredients. This will also prevent the food from sticking to the base during cooking. Also, as the heat comes direct from the stove, it means you can adjust the heat easily; this comes in handy as you can remove the ingredients from the stock pot when it’s ready and reduce and thicken the sauce before serving.
This is an ovenproof dish with a tight fitting lid, designed to cook in the oven. Casserole dishes are usually made from glass, ceramic or earthenware. The meat needs to be browned on the stovetop first before going in the dish with the other ingredients and placed in the oven to gently cook till tender. The advantage of this is the indirect heat from the oven cooks more evenly, rather than just heating from the base. You can also buy casserole dishes made of cast iron, which allows you to brown the meat on the stovetop in the same dish to minimise cleaning up.
Crock pots, slow cookers and electric cookers
These are basically electric versions of the stockpot. They typically have a removable pot set inside a metal outer casing for easier clean up and a tightly covered, transparent lid. They either have the heating element at the bottom of the pot only (electric and slow cookers) or both the bottom and sides (crock pots). They are designed for convenience, as you can place all the ingredients in the pot and let it cook overnight or while you’re out during the day and are great for keeping the food warn until it’s ready to serve.
Pressure cookers are great because they achieve the same tender and juicy result in a fraction of the time. The lid on a pressure cooker creates a tight seal, which traps the steam produced in the cooking process; this builds the pressure within the pot and increasing the boiling point of the liquid for faster cooking times. Please beware though that with a pressure cooker, it is vital to release the pressure inside with the regulating valve first before opening the lid or the contents can explode. It’s also essential to add the right amount of stock or the food won’t cook properly.
Best cuts for slow cooking
Tougher cuts of meat are perfect for slow cooking; they’re typically a sweeter, more flavourful cut and are generally much cheaper too. The longer cooking process gradually breaks down the meat into tender and juicy bites.
According to the team at Craig Cook’s Prime Quality Meats, for beef lovers, choose chuck steak and gravy beef, cooked for a minimum of 3 hours. But for melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, try lamb shoulder or lamb shanks cooked for 4 hours plus; the bone adds extra flavour and richness to your sauces and it’s beautiful to present for a dinner party.
To prepare the meat, cut rough chunks of the chuck steak and gravy beef – while for the lamb shoulder of lamb shanks, prepare whole. Toss the meat in a mixture of flour, a pinch of salt and pepper to coat and brown over high heat; this will caramelise some of the juices in the pan and also help seal in the flavour of the meat.
Whether you choose to use a stock pot, casserole dish or slow cooker, the basics for slow cooking is the same: Combine the prepared meat (see above) and rough cuts of vegetables, cover the mixture to about 3/4 with stock and cook for a minimum of 4 hours about 170oC. It’s really as simple as that!
To get you started, here is one of our favourite tried-and-true recipes that is guaranteed to be a hit on your first try:
1.5kg Lamb shoulder
1 glass red wine
500ml chicken stock
1 large bunch of fresh rosemary
1 small onion
1 bulb of garlic, unpeeled
2 tbs olive oil
2 handfuls of flour
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 220oC.
Pour a little olive oil into the base of a high-sided deep roasting tin and add half of the rosemary sprigs and half of the garlic. Roughly chop the onion and scatter over the tin.
To prepare the lamb, use a sharp knife to score the fat of the lamb at about 2.5cm intervals and then again in the oppose direction to form a diamond pattern. Then, pour over enough oil to coat the lamb, sprinkle with some salt and pepper and coat in a thin layer of flour. Cook the lamb in a large pan over high heat for 5 minutes, turning once until browned. Remove the lamb.
While the pan is still hot, carefully pour the chicken stock and wine into the pan to deglaze the sauce and leave aside.
Place the lamb into the tin over the bed of garlic, rosemary and onion and place the remaining garlic and rosemary on top of the lamb. For extra flavour, poke some of the garlic pieces in between the scoring. Carefully pour the deglazed stock and wine over the lamb and make sure the liquid covers at least ¾ of the lamb.
Loosely cover the roasting tin in aluminium foil. Cook in the oven at 220oC for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 160oC and cook for another 4 hours (or more) until tender, basting occasionally.
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