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There’s been a slow cooker on the shelf in our kitchen for a few years now and it does get used but it tends to be for the classic casseroles – chicken chasseur and that kind of thing. I had noticed that there seemed to be more and more recipes available for slow cookers and an expanding range of packet mixes on the shelf in supermarkets. But why is the slow cooker suddenly popular again?
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The story of the slow cooker
The slow cooker first appeared back in the 1970s but versions has been around for a few decades before that. The original machine was called the Naxon Beanery and was a portable cooker that heated food evenly and was launched in the US in the 1950s. In 1972, it was bought and renamed as the Crock-pot – the name still used in the US for what we in the UK known as the slow cooker.
The 1970s ladies loved them and they took off in sales – at the height later in the decades there were 40 different models available in the US alone but the 1980s saw a cooling of the slow cooker trend. Microwave ovens had appeared and these seemed to be much more impressive.
However, in the last year or two, there has been a quiet uptake in the number of slow cookers for sale. According to retailer Lakeland, they old over 30% more slow cookers in 2016 than compared with 2011. Amazon say that the two most popular recipe books that they sell are for slow cookers while the Slow Cooker Kitchen’s page on Facebook has nearly two million likes.
What makes the slow cooker so attractive?
But what is it about the slow cooker in 2016 that has made it so popular again? One suggestion is the convenience – set it up, set it away and when you come home at night, there is a tasty meal waiting for you. Another is that you can buy cheaper cuts of meat and by the time it has cooked for an extended period, it is as soft and easy to eat as a more expensive cut that has been cooked for a shorter time period.
Their cost effectiveness in terms of electricity used is another star on their board in a time when utility bills are rising. According to uSwitch, a slow cooker ‘uses just a little more energy than a traditional light bulb’ as opposed to microwave ovens that can be quite heavy on the electricity usage.
How to get the best from your slow cooker
For me, I would like to do a bit more with the slow cooker than the occasional simply casserole. My husband, Robert, did make a curry recipe a little while ago from scratch in the slow cooker and it was delicious – he will be getting nagged to make it again soon. So what are the expert tips to getting the most from your slow cooker?
- Use a dedicated recipe for slow cookers, otherwise you might find you have too much or not enough liquid
- Choose ingredients that are meant to be soft – if you like your vegetables crunchy then the slow cooker won’t cook them well for you
- Choose recipes that work with the size of your slow cooker
- Use cheap cuts of meat to get the best from the meal
- Remove excess fat to stop this sitting on top of the food
- Leave the lid on to keep the heat inside
Another key tip to getting the most from your slow cooker recipes is to do a little preparation. Some meat benefits from sealing it first, onions do well when they have been caramelised before adding. So whatever the recipe says, if there is a little preparation required, don’t skip the step. And if you are doing a simple, throw it all in style meal, then see what is the best way to prepare some of the ingredients to bring out the best flavour in them.
There is also a general guideline for how long you should cook a dish that is designed for the cooker or oven. Recipes will tell you exactly but you can say
- 15-30 minute cook time = 1-2 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low
- 30 minutes to 1 hour cook time = 2-3 hours on high or 5-7 hours on low
- 1 – 2 hours cook time = 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low
- 2 – 4 hours cook time = 6 hours on high or 8-12 hours on low
There are lots of things you can cook with a slow cooker that may not be top of the list including sponge puddings, soups, desserts and even chutneys. There are also lots of different sizes slow cookers so whether you are a single person household or a family, there is one that is perfect for your meal sizes.