Six Tips for Adapting a Recipe for a Slow Cooker
Stick with soups, stews, braises and roasts. The low, moist heat of the slow cooker will render fatty, tougher cuts in long-cooked dishes lush and tender. Opt for a conventional oven when you're craving breaded casseroles, lean meats or layered dishes (think lasagna and enchiladas) that need to keep their shape.
Reduce the liquid. The tight seal on a slow cooker creates steam and promotes the accumulation of juices, making it unnecessary to add the full amount of water or broth called for in conventional recipes. For braises and roasts, start by cutting back 20 percent and experiment from there.
Rein in fiery spices. A slow cooker can amp up the effects of cayenne, chili powder, crushed red pepper and the like, so reduce the amount you use in your recipe (at least the first time around). Want to finish with a kick? Serve pickled jalapenos, chili sauce, horseradish or Sriracha on the side.
Add fresh herbs at the end. Tender greens like parsley, basil, cilantro and mint lose their potency in a slow cooker. To maximize their bright, clear flavors, stir them in during the last five minutes of cooking, or sprinkle them on top at serving.
Beware of onions. They — along with garlic — can intensify in surprising ways in a slow cooker. Use just half of what the recipe calls for and finish your dish with a scattering of chopped scallions or chives instead.
Plan for last-minute prep. Budget 15 to 20 minutes before you sit down to the table for stirring in quick-cooking proteins like shrimp, fish or tofu and for skimming any accumulated fat. This is also the time to remove large cuts, turn the heat to high and reduce the cooking liquid to a rich and silky sauce.
How Long Can Slow Cooker Food Hold? Caught in traffic on your way home to dinner? Not to worry. A finished slow-cooked meal is fine to eat for up to two hours after the machine has shut off. (More than that and you risk the temperature dropping to below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, when harmful bacteria can grow.) If your machine has a warm setting, the food will keep even longer. Just make sure it stays in the safe zone with a quick check with an instant-read thermometer. Keep in mind: The longer the food cooks, the more the ingredients will break down, muddling the flavors and texture. If you're not planning to eat a slow cooker meal until several hours after it's done, your best bet is to let it cool and then stow it in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve.
The slow cooker's ability to cook dinner while you're away at work is only one of its many merits. Breakfast, lunch, dessert, party food and even holiday gifts are made infinitely easier when left to the gentle heat of a slow cooker.