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What's the secret to great slow cooker recipes?

Rachel Manley Rachel Manley | 15:40 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

Scotch broth


It's getting to that time of year again when the evenings are all about curling up on the sofa with a comforting bowl of something hot. It’s also when slow cookers are retrieved from the back of the cupboard, dusted down and put to good use.  

So what to cook in your slow cooker? They really come into their own when cooking cheap cuts of meat: think shoulder of pork, lamb neck and chicken thighs, the liquid in the pot becomes steam, condenses on the lid and drops back into the pot, creating deliciously moist and tender meat. A long, slow cooking time is also perfect for cooking dried lentils or beans.

The downside? Well, they might not be as economical in terms of energy as people think and without the direct heat to get some caramelisation going on, food can sometimes come out a bit, well, bland. You can overcome this by using plenty of aromatics for flavour: onions, garlic and hardier herbs such as rosemary, thyme and bay leaves, then finish off a dish with fresh herbs such as parsley.  Try draining off the liquid for a stew and thickening it on the hob with a little flour. Head over to Mumsnet for lots more tips. There's also a wealth of advice on the BBC Food messageboard.

To adapt a recipe for a slow cooker, you’ll need to lengthen the cooking time (check the manufacturer's guidelines on your slow cooker) and generally add a little less liquid.  Below are some of our favourite slow cooker recipes:

Scotch broth
Simply tip all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on high for 6-8 hours (or until the barley is soft) for this cheap and cheerful Scotch broth.

Jools’s favourite beef stew
We love Jamie Oliver’s beef stew finished off with a sprinkle of lemon zest and rosemary. 

Boston baked beans
These Boston baked beans from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are great on toast. Boil the soaked beans for 10 minutes, then add them to the slow cooker with the remaining ingredients and cook on high for 6-8 hours.

Ginger-glazed pork hocks
Ham hocks are cheap as chips to buy and delicious when braised in the slow-cooker. This recipe finishes them in the oven with a sticky glaze. Serve with mounds of mashed potato.

Lamb curry
This curry is bursting with flavour and if you slow-cook the lamb you'll make it meltingly tender.

Mulled wine
If you're having a party this Christmas, try making mulled wine in the slow-cooker. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker, switch it on, and it will keep at the perfect temperature all night.

Rice pudding
For comfort food heaven, try this no-fuss rice pudding. Grease the slow cooker with a little butter, add all of the ingredients and stir together, then cook on high for 2-3 hours.

Chocolate fondue
Perfect for Halloween parties – the slow cooker will keep your chocolate silkily smooth. Make the sugar syrup in a saucepan then add it to the slow cooker with the chocolate and golden syrup. Cook on high until the chocolate has melted and formed a smooth sauce.

Chicken stock
For a super easy chicken stock, chuck all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on high for eight hours.

Get more tips on cooking food on a budget.

What do you cook in your slow cooker? What are your tips for getting the most out of one?

Rachel Manley works on the BBC Food website.


  • Comment number 1.

    Looks very good! Should have included a how to video too

  • Comment number 2.

    Subject explored at great length on the old food messageboards.
    I never put mine away in the back of the cupboard, in good weather it can be nice to come home to a ready cooked meal in a cool kitchen, when you've been out all day

    Quote:For a super easy chicken stock, chuck all the ingredients into a slow cooker

    As there was a comment on the food messageboard about how much time BBC staff spend editing the language used in chefs' recipes, could I make a personal plea to stop using the word 'chuck' it really, really grates on everyone in our household.

  • Comment number 3.

    Yes that's a brilliant thread with plenty of useful information. I agree with the point made in that thread about using a slow cooker in the summer as it doesn't add extra heat to the kitchen. What would you cook in your slow cooker in good weather Frillz?

  • Comment number 4.

    Rachel - do you havee a source for your comment that slow cookers may be less economical that people think? I have long suspected that!

    Sorry Frillz, but "chuck in" seems to me an excellent way of describing my approach to slow cooking. I rarely bother with any of the recommended pre-frying etc.

    My recipe for slow cooked ham hock is

    "Chuck hock in cooker and turn on"

    When feeling VERY keen I may add an unpeeled carrot or two and an onion with just top, base, and loose leaves removed.

  • Comment number 5.

    The long thread on the BBC messageboards has an immense wealth of recipes hints and tips all be it a long thread that would take for ever to work your way through from beggining to end.

    The discussion about power usage has also been on there more than once.

    Cooking not just lots of savoury recipes but sweet ones too such as rice puddings, fruit compotes and even cheesecakes and porridge.

    Use of the slow cooker when going on holiday in caravans, and keeping down the heat in the summer kitchen too as you mentioned Ramona.

    One of the most interesting ideas is about not using the slowcooker for just meals that have sauces/gravy (stews, soups, braised meals and pot roasts) but for things like jacket potatoes and cheesecakes.

    A wonderful thread with a wealth of comments over the past couple of years, and still going now, not just from the days of the old messageboards.

  • Comment number 6.

    Organoleptic Icon - If you click on the word economical in the post, it will take you to the source.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ramona, I have several good recipes which are great for warmer weather.
    One is Monkfish with Fennel, which uses red and orange peppers, plum sauce and Thai spices. There's a Fish Provençal with white wine, olives and artichokes, Chicken with pine kernels, lemon rind and mint which has pasta in the recipe, Rosé Chicken - a variation on coq au vin I suppose. There are also several rice/jambalaya type dishes which are good to come back in to.

    It's not only if we've been out, say it's been a full day's gardening - I don't always want to start cooking after coming indoors and getting cleaned up.
    What seemed like a good idea first thing in the day ... a barbecue say, can often seem like too much bother if you're hot and weary.

    Soups are a good idea as well - the tomato and basil one could be used to help with the glut of produce in summer months and can be left for 8 hours+ on low.
    Another favourite is smoked haddock and broad bean chowder which also includes new potatoes and sweetcorn - that can be a meal in itself with some crusty bread.

    My book has a fair few pudding recipes but I don't go in for sweet things so much. Using the slow cooker in lieu of a bain marie seems quite a good idea though - this is suggested for making lemon and orange cheese and creme brulees (although you'd need to be in to watch when they were set as the recipe has a massive 3-6 hour margin!)

    OI, I can just imagine you hurling things around your kitchen at increasing speed and from a distance now - still think it's a terribly ugly way of expressing oneself though however the food ends up in the pot!

  • Comment number 8.

    I've never felt the need for a slow cooker as if I cook say a casserole, jacket potatoes and a rice pudding in my gas oven all at the same time, it also warms my house.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've got this recipe earmarked to try in my slow cooker: pork shoulder cooked in a chipotle marinade and then eaten in tacos - it looks divine!

  • Comment number 10.

    The secret to great slow cooker recipes is the right ingredients and seasoning that cooked for lengthy hours. Inmost flavors of each ingredients are mixed well creating one flavor of combined natural essences. One of my favorite is the Boston Baked Beans. Great post, glad to be here. Thank you. -CooksandLay

  • Comment number 11.

    Most of the slow cooking food goes well with lemon juice for a strange reason. Of course the amount you are putting in got to have a balance.


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