Your ultimate guide to slow cookers
Slow and steady wins the race
The slow cooker has been a kitchen staple since way back in the 1970s, and its popularity has never wavered. The slow cooker lets users chuck a bunch of ingredients together in the morning, and return in the evening to the comforting smell of a home-cooked meal. Just like the famous slogan goes, it ‘It cooks all day while the cook’s away’. Versatile, convenient, and cheap to run, it’s no surprise these machines have stood the test of time. But the slow cooker’s legacy stretches back much further than the disco era.
Where did the slow cooker come from?
Although the slow cooker we know today only came to be around 50 years ago, the actual technique of slow-cooking dates back centuries. From earth-covered pits and pot roasts, the cooking method traps the ingredients’ liquids inside a sealed cooking chamber, heated on a low temperature, allowing the contents to tenderise over a long period.
While the Australian aboriginals were cooking plants and roots overnight in ground ovens, the Hawaiians were cooking whole hogs covered with hot stones. And although the techniques may have differed slightly, the concept is the same. Low, slow, and super tasty.
How does the slow cooker work?
The slow cooker isn’t a complicated machine. It’s made up of three main parts – the pot you put everything in, the outer casing, and the lid.
- The oval cooking pot (or crock, if you like), is made of ceramic, and is often removable.
- The outer casing contains low-wattage coils, wrapping all the way around the pot, responsible for heating up all your ingredients.
- And then there’s the glass lid, which sits tightly on top.
As the food is heated gradually over a matter of hours (depending on which setting you use, most slow cookers will have two or three e.g., low, mid, and high), the lid traps the steam inside, adding moisture to the food, so it doesn’t dry out. Without the lid, the slow cooker wouldn’t work at all, as all the heat and moisture would escape.
How to clean a slow cooker
If your slow cooker’s crock is removable it can be placed directly in the dishwasher with the lid. But we would recommend scooping out any leftovers beforehand. Another handy trick is to fill it with water after you’ve taken out your food, and let it simmer away before wiping it down by hand. The outer casing shouldn’t need cleaning (unless you’re a bit of a mucky pup), but if it does end up with a few splatters, just wipe down with a warm, damp cloth.
The slow cooker versus the multicooker
If you’re thinking about buying a slow cooker, you may have come across another name in your research… the multicooker. Or to use the more well-known brand names, the Crockpot and the Instant Pot – clash of the titans.
When it comes to comparing the two, it may be more straightforward than you think. Basically, the slow cooker can do one thing very well – cook stuff slowly. Whereas the multicooker has multiple functions, including pressure cooking, slow cooking, sautéing, and steaming. And because the multicooker has more buttons on it, it generally carries a bigger price tag. If you’re looking for something to take the stress out of cooking a full evening meal after work, and that’s about it, then the slow cooker is for you. But if you’re in the market for a kitchen assistant, capable of making small work of various cooking styles – including slow cooking – then it sounds like you want a multicooker. The only other thing to consider is that the multicooker’s pot isn’t generally as large as the slow cookers.
Slow cooker favourites
From stews and casseroles, to briskets and even bread, the slow cooker is a seriously versatile countertop convenience. Of course, we use ours most often to make tasty, fluffy rice. And it couldn’t be easier. With the pot’s non-stick coating, you don’t need to worry about babysitting rice cooking in a slow cooker, as you would on the stove or hob. You just set it off and get on with the rest of your meal.
Start off by straining your uncooked rice with warm water until the water runs clear, removing all the starch and preventing it from clumping into one big ball. Once that’s all sorted, chuck it in the slow cooker with two mugs of boiling water and a pinch of salt, pop the lid on, and leave it for a couple of hours. And when it’s time to eat, fluff it up with a fork and serve.