When it comes to winter comfort food, you can't go past a heart slow cooker recipe. These one-pot wonders, perfect with almost any cuts of meat, are guaranteed to turn out fragrant, tender meals every time. Best of all, you can just pop your ingredients in and return in a few hours with all the work done for you.
However, not all of our favourite recipes were designed with the slow cooker in mind. Luckily, most of your favourite casserole, curry and soups can easily be converted for a slow cooker.
Here, we'll take you through what you need to know for adapting your favourite recipes.
Keep in mind that a recipe that takes 2 hours to simmer or slow-roast will take about 6-8 hours on Low or 3-4 hours on High in the slow cooker.
And, as a general rule, a slow cooker should be at least half-full when cooking casseroles, curries and soups. Place vegetables into the cooker, put meat on top, then add the liquid.
The best cuts of meat for a slow cooker
Budget-friendly, and light on prep-work, it's the tougher cuts of meat that tenderise well in a slow cooker. Look for:
BEEF: Topside, oyster, blade, skirt, round, chuck, gravy beef.
VEAL: Osso buco, shanks, shoulder.
LAMB: Neck chops, shoulder, shanks, forequarter.
PORK: Forequarter chops, neck/scotch, belly, shoulder.
CHICKEN: Drumsticks, thigh cutlets.
SEAFOOD: Seafood is generally not suitable for a slow cooker. The exception is large octopus, which becomes tender in a cooker.
Do you need to brown the meat first?
You can just throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker, but browning the meat first gives far better colour and flavour.
Do this in a frying pan with a little oil over a high heat, as shown in the video below.
How much liquid do you need for a slow-cooker?
Slow cookers produce a lot of liquid during cooking, so you'll need to reduce the amount of liquid (such as stock or water) you would normally use in a casserole. Two cups of liquid is about right in a dish serving 4-6. Try two cups of stock or one cup stock and a can of crushed tomatoes, instead.
Whole pieces of meat or poultry used for "roasting" in the slow cooker are often cooked with minimal liquid, while corned meats are usually cooked in just enough water to barely cover them.
You can, however, add a little more liquid toward the end of cooking time if it has become too dry.
How do you thicken the sauce in a slow cooker?
To help thicken the sauce, toss the meat or chicken in a little plain flour before browning.
To thicken the sauce at the end of cooking, increase the setting to High. Stir 1 tablespoon cornflour and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl until smooth. Stir into the casserole, replace the lid and leave for 20 minutes or until thickened slightly.
Another trick is to blend some of the vegetables until smooth, then stir them into the cooking juices.
Can you use dried beans in a slow cooker?
Some dry beans need to be cooked before adding to a slow cooker because of a chemical they contain. Kidney-shaped beans of all types must be washed, drained and boiled in fresh water until tender. Add the cooked beans to the slow-cooked dish, just like canned beans.
Dried chickpeas and soya beans are fine to use in the slow cooker. Rinse them well first. There's no need to soak them.
Can you lift the lid on a slow cooker?
Lifting the lid on the slow cooker causes heat to escape and can set the cooking time back. Only lift the lid to add ingredients when needed.
How do you choose the right slow cooker setting?
If you have time, use the Low setting, but if you're pressed for time, use High. The slower you cook your recipe, the more tender the cuts of meat will become and the overall flavour will be enhanced.
The High setting will generally halve the cooking time and is handy when you need to add ingredients or thicken the sauce at the end of the cooking time.