In case you missed it, this is an article I wrote for our magazine: Foodie Friends Friday Daily Dish.
Here are a few tips that might help you out. They helped me.
1. Add these first Some ingredients stand up to longer cooking times more than others. All of these can be added at the very start of cooking.
• Vegetables - Onions, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, winter squashes, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, and broccoli • Meats - Lean cuts from the shoulder and rump of beef, lamb, pork, whole chickens, chicken thighs, and chicken legs, a half ham smoked or fresh. • Spices - Most spices can and should be added first, however, rosemary can become bitter over long cooking times and is best added at the end.
2. Ingredients to Add last These are quicker-cooking ingredients that wouldn't hold up over hours of cooking and add some fresh flavor to a slow-cooked dish. Add all of the following ingredients in the last 30-45 minutes of cooking.
• Vegetables - Softer vegetables like peas, corn, bell peppers, squash, zucchini and spinach. • Meat - Chicken breast, fish, and other seafood. Check the chicken breast at the end of cooking and give it a little more time if it’s still pink in the middle. Boneless skinless chicken also cooks quicker. • Pantry Items - Rice, noodles, and other grains. You can add these already cooked, though uncooked grains are helpful for soaking up excess liquid and it makes them more flavorful. Beans can cause some debate; personally, I like to add them at the end of cooking so they retain some firmness, though they can be added at the beginning if that’s easier for you. • Dairy products - Milk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese. Coconut milk is also best added at the end.
3. Cut All Ingredients to the Same Size This will help all the ingredients to cook at basically the same rate.
4. Take the Time to Brown Your Ingredients Sometimes due to our schedules we need to dump and go but some things have to be cooked first and added. Like ground beef and ground turkey.
5. Use Less Liquid
There is very little evaporation in the slow cooker. If you are changing a regular soup recipe, it’s likely that you won’t need to use all the liquid called for. Put all your ingredients in the slow cooker and then pour the broth over top. It should cover the vegetables by about 1/2 inch. If it is to ‘soupy’ near the end of the cooking time, take the lid off for at least 30 minutes.
6. Choosing a Cooking Time
Recipes with meat like chili and roast are best when cooked for six hours minimum or up to ten hours. Vegetarian recipes are best cooked for around four hours, but can do a minimum of two hours or maximum of six hours (after which the vegetables start to get unpleasantly mushy).
Keep these tips in mind when gathering your slow-cooker recipes and you can’t go wrong. A slow-cooker like anything else, you improve the more you use it.