Slow cooking

Slow cookers can be found in many homes. Slow cookers are great for busy individuals who prefer to prepare meals in advance and then arrive home in the evening to a hot, home-cooked meal.

People new to slow cookers may want to gain some knowledge before diving in to improve their chances of preparing tasty meals. The following are some slow cooker tips that can benefit home chefs.

• Treat the slow cooker like an oven and preheat it. Putting food into an already warmed crock can make the difference in cooking time and taste.

• Choose the right cuts of meat to use in the slow cooker. Lean toward chuck roasts, short ribs, pork shoulders, and lamb shanks. Fatty and tougher meats will tenderize nicely with the moist, low heat of a slow cooker. When slow cooking poultry, choose dark meats, which tend to respond better to slow cooking.

• Take the time to brown meat for a couple of minutes and saute vegetables before adding them to the crock. This will provide a deeper layer of flavor.

• Many manufacturers recommend filling the crocks inside a slow cooker no more than two-thirds full. This helps ensure food is cooked all the way through and prevents potential food-safety hazards.

• Begin with room-temperature meat. As with other cooking methods, let meat come to room temperature rather than using it straight from the refrigerator to ensure juicy, flavorful meals.

• The Food Network suggests layering carefully and first cutting food into uniform-size pieces. Then place firm, slow-cooking root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom of the crock and pile the meat on top.

• Adjust seasoning as the meal nears completion. Some seasonings may lose their punch during the slow cooking process. At just the end of simmering, add fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Similarly, dairy can break down in the slow cooker, so stir it in during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

• Do not add frozen ingredients to the slow cooker, as it can keep food in the danger zone where bacteria can flourish (40 to 140 F). Therefore, make sure meat and vegetables are fully thawed before turning the cooker on.

• Use wine judiciously because the alcohol will not evaporate as readily in a sealed slow cooker.

• Resist the urge to take off the lid and peek. This can increase the amount of time the meal will need to finish cooking.

With some handy tips, anyone can become a slow cooking expert. 

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