It is much healthier to eat food which is cooked slowly compared to that which is cooked on high heat. A slow cooker, also known as a crock pot, is a very practical appliance when it comes to this. Cooking in a slow cooker is also very convenient for busy women, as there is no need for frequent checking and stirring. However, it is important to understand how it works if you want to use it appropriately.
In this article, you can read about this process and learn how to use a slow cooker properly.
How Does It Work?
A slow cooker has 3 parts: an outer casing, an inner container, and a lid. The outer casing is usually made of metal. In its inside, there are heating coils which are protected by the casing itself. The inner container is made of ceramic or porcelain, and it fits inside the metal casing. There is a small space between the two containers, which is heated up by the coils. This heat then transfers to the inner container, and the food inside it is cooked.
The lid is a very important part of this appliance. It is usually made of glass, which is very advantageous as you can see the food and do not need to open the lid. It fits the inner container tightly and does not let out the steam produced from the food. The steam generated at the edges of the pot creates a low-pressure seal. Unlike the pressure cooker, the slow cooker is in no danger of releasing pressure abruptly.
A slow cooker typically has three heat settings: high, low, and off. Some of them may have a ‘medium’ or ‘keep warm’ setting. The food simmers for several hours at a low temperature. When it is set to ‘high’, the liquid inside the inner pot will reach the boiling point. The automatic cookers with the ‘keep warm’ setting may shift to it after the preset timer finishes the cooking process. Of course, the mechanical slow cooker does not have a timer and has to be turned on and off manually.
Since the food stays warm in a slow cooker for a longer period of time compared to a regular cooking pot, people may choose to take it to another place and eat without reheating. That is the reason why some slow cookers may have special lids which will not open during transport.
What Food Can Be Cooked in a Slow Cooker?
As steam and vapour are essential elements of the process of cooking used by a slow cooker, it is designed for food with a lot of moisture. You can cook different soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, curry, chilli, roasts that cook in liquid, and the like. It is good to use tougher pieces of meat, as a long time in the heat will tenderize them completely.
There are many slow cooker recipes which are designed especially for slow cookers in terms of the ingredients, spices, and cooking time.
You should avoid putting too much spice and alcohol. Since nothing evaporates from the cooker, the flavours form these stay in their totality.
Spices such as herbs may be added at the beginning of cooking only if they are dried. Fresh herbs would overcook and basically disappear by the end.
Ingredients that should be added towards the end of the cooking process are fresh herbs, summer vegetables, and dairy products.
It should be mentioned that the foods at the bottom part of the cooker cook faster, so those which take longer time to cook should be put in the pot first.
That would be root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, followed by meat.
Everything else may be added at the top.
What Precautions Do You Need to Take?
Even though a slow cooker is quite a convenient device, there are some precautions to be taken.
Clean everything before cooking.
Make sure that the pot is clean before cooking starts. Do the same with all the utensils you are going to use. Wash your hands before you start. The only way to get healthy food and to use your slow cooker appropriately and for a long time it to take good care of it.
Store the food appropriately.
If you plan to cook food which was frozen, especially if it is meat, it is fundamental that you thaw it completely. Also, if you cut the vegetables and meat the evening before cooking, it is wise to store them in the refrigerator during the night, and they should be placed in separate bowls.
The lid should be placed securely.
Do not take it off until the end unless you have to stir or add some ingredients. The cooker needs much time to heat the food inside. Removing the lid lets out all the hot air which was generated in the pot and sets cooking back around 30 minutes. To prevent the heat loss, keep the lid on till the end of the cooking process.
Use the right size of the pot.
It should be a half to three-quarters full for the best food preparation. On the one hand, if the pot is too big, the food may end up overcooked. On the other hand, if it is too small, the food may not be cooked enough, or it may overflow the pot.
What to do in case of a power outage?
If there is a power outage and you are not at home while it was cooking, you should throw away the food as there is a possibility that harmful bacteria develop due to lack of adequate thermal treatment of the food. If you are at home, you should finish cooking some other way, e.g. on a gas stove, outdoor grill, or in someone else’s house.