The slow cooker should be an athlete’s best friend in the kitchen. It does most of the work for you while you sleep, work or train, saving you time and energy. I understand that there are nights where a 15-minute recipe is too much effort after a long day of work that either started early on the track or ended late on the bike. Then if that wasn’t enough, many of you athletes have kids coming and going at different times because of after school activities. Trying to get a hot dinner on the table can become increasingly daunting.
When it comes to using your slow cooker, you need to keep in mind that not all vegetables and meats are equals. Some veggies will become mush. Then there will be some meats that can become dry. I’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the food world of the slow cooker.
Choose the right piece of meat.
Chicken: Dark meat, like chicken thighs and drumsticks are less likely to dry out as compared to their white meat counterpart that will dry out. Pieces with bones take longer to cook than boneless pieces. Large pieces of meat like chickens and pork butts will take at least 12 hours to cook on low. So keep that in mind
Beef: Stay away from lean pieces like sirloin and filet as they get dry. Do use shanks, shoulders, round and rump because the longer they cook the better they get.
Pork: Much like beef, stick with pieces of meat like the shank, pork butt, and shoulders. Stay away from lean pieces like tenderloin, as it will dry out.
Choose vegetables appropriately.
Vegetables: Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, parsnips and fall squashes can withstand long periods of time cooking. Summer vegetables are tender so make sure you cut in larger pieces and shorten the cooking time. They will get mushy.
Greens: Greens like collards, turnips and mustard are ideal because they get better the longer you cook them. Spinach and Swiss chard are better to use towards the end of cooking. Especially if using in soups.
Add Dairy at the end.
Dairy products like sour cream and yogurt can easily curdle, so make sure you stir them in during the final 15 minutes of cooking.
Pay attention to the heat level.
The general rule of thumb is that setting the crock-pot on low (170°F) will take twice as long as setting it on high (280°F). Use the appropriate cuts of meats and vegetables for the amount of time you are going to use the slow cooker.
Layering is important.
Place hearty/firm vegetables like potatoes and squashes on the bottom of the crock and then start piling on meats and legumes.
Fresh is best at the end.
As with most recipes, in the final minutes of cooking or right after plating is when you start adding fresh herbs, grated Parmesan or the zest and juice of a citrus. This will brighten even the most heavy of slow cooker meals.
Browning is a flavor enhancer.
Just as you would cook the ground beef before making a Bolognese sauce or searing a pot roast before putting in the oven, browning the meats before putting in the crock-pot will enhance the flavors of the dish.
If you are able to follow these simple rules of thumb to crock pot cooking, you and your family can have a healthy and hot dinner regardless of schedules and fatigue. Need a slow cooker idea? I love my 6.5 quart Cuisinart multi cooker. If that is too big, I’ve used my friends 3.5 quart programmable slow cooker and it was great.
Related Recipe: Slow Cooker Pho Gâ