Winter is only moments away and that means rugging up and indulging in hearty long-braised stews and slow-roasted meats.
Here, five expert slow-cooking tips to help you execute your comfort-food creations with finesse:
Use your slow cooker for jams and preserves
At revered New York bistro Otway, chef Claire Welle uses a slow cooker to help with the practice of fermenting and ageing vegetables.
"At a very low temperature, vegetables with high sugar and low moisture content, such as parsnips, garlic, or even [Jerusalem artichokes], can be slowly dehydrated," Welle explains. Eventually [in three to five weeks] their sugars caramelise and they will actually ferment — nothing else is needed, just a watchful eye to make sure it's progressing slowly."
American chef and author of The Chef and the Slow Cooker Hugh Acheson is a fan of creating jams in his slow cooker as it allows for the preserve to mellow out in the process.
"The worst thing you can do with a jam is spend an arduous amount of time cleaning fruit, getting it together, getting it into a pot and then torching and scorching the bottom of it because of an open flame and a little bit too-high heat."
Avoid opening your lid
Corporate chef at Hong-Kong food company Lee Kum Kee, Christopher M. Wilmoth says that opening the lid of your dish to occasionally stir can minimise flavour.
"Every time you remove the lid, the slow-cooker loses heat," Wilmoth says.
French kitchen ceramics brand Emile Henry have designed their stovetop capable tagine without a hole through the conical lid. The vessel traps all the flavours in the form of steam, returning it back into the food. A shape derived from a Berber North African dish, the tagine's lid is renowned for allowing more steam to rise and condense faster than the traditional cocotte.
To accelerate the basting process, their conical lid also includes a traditional trough for holding cold water. This keeps the top cool and allows for more steam to condense faster and return more of its own juices back into the food, making the Emile Henry tagine perfect for rich stews, soups, curries and roast meats.
Use chicken stock to slow-braise lamb
Australian chef Matt Sinclair of The Cook's Pantry says a good-slow braise is inevitable given you're using the right amount of liquid.
"The key to braising: you've got to have enough liquid. It needs to be submerged in its own little bath doing its thing, ticking along," he says. "If you've got enough liquid, the right cut of meat, the right temperature and you give it enough time, you really cannot go wrong."
His other tip? Always use chicken stock.
"Lamb has its own distinctive flavour. If you use a beef stock it will overwrite it. The stock is just there to bring all the flavour together so lamb and chicken stock are a perfect combination."
Sauté your aromatics first
In her book Adventures in Slow Cooking, food writer Sarah DiGregorio recommends sautéing your onions, carrots and garlic in oil before proceeding with your dish.
"Many slow-cooker recipes instruct you to just throw the onion and other aromatics into the cooker with the other ingredients before turning it on," she explains. "But often that means you'll end up with bits of onion that never get soft. Raw onion can swamp a dish with moisture."
Instead, DiGregorio recommends taking an extra ten minutes to sauté your aromatics before the slow cooking begins.
When cooking longer recipes, Acheson recommends chopping vegetables into larger pieces to avoid overcooking them which can lead to mushy texture and dull flavour.
Caramelise your meat for extra flavour
Slow cooking works with moist, low heat which can be difficult when trying for crispy-skinned chicken. Martha Stewart believes in first searing meat or charring vegetables before slow cooking:
"Browning meats and vegetables adds more flavour to any dish. Of course, if you want to make life easier (and save yourself a pan), you can skip this step."
Doing this in the same pan that you plan to slow cook with will ensure you have lovely caramelised pockets of flavour created from the Maillard reaction. Deglazing with a bit of liquid and then scraping the base off will add another complexity to the dish.
Brought to you by Emile Henry