What’s the best way to fit slow cooking into your daily routine? If you have time in the morning, you can assemble your recipe before you leave for the day, put it in a low oven or turn your slow cooker to low, and come home to a hot meal.(Some of the newer cookers even have timers and thermostats that can bring food to a given temperature and then lower it.)
• With an electric slow cooker, the rule is “set it and forget it,” but it takes a bit more vigilance to maintain the best oven temperature for slow cooking so that food stays at a very low simmer. In general, slower is better—if your pot is flameproof, bring the dish to a simmer on top of the stove and transfer to a 250 to 300°F oven. Oven thermostats are not always accurate, so check after 20 minutes to make sure the food isn’t bubbling too fast.
• When you brown a piece of meat, complex chemical reactions take place, which add to the savory flavor. That’s why many slow-cooker recipes call for browning foods before they’re added to the slow cooker, and even though it seems like an extra step, it really makes a difference. Dredge meat in a little flour before browning to get a thicker sauce.
• If you’re adapting a conventional recipe f or an electric slow cooker, use less liquid than the recipe calls for—evaporation is greatly reduced in a slow cooker, and juices that collect on the lid fall back into the food, creating a self-basting effect.
• Cooks who live at high altitudes probably already know that water boils at a lower temperature due to the decrease in air pressure. If you live more than 3,000 feet above sea level, cook foods at a slightly higher temperature and increase cooking time to compensate.
• If you’re new to slow cooking, it’s hard to know exactly how much the juices in a dish will cook down. If there’s too much liquid in your dish when it’s done, simmer with the lid off until the juices are reduced and the flavor is nicely concentrated.
Next week: Slow Cookers from Around the World