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I’m not sure why I have never considered a slow cooker before now. I love slow cooking in the oven: lamb breast, pork belly, shanks and stews, but was always aware that having the big oven on all day was not doing our ‘leccy bills any good.
Before taking the plunge and making the purchase, I consulted the food oracle which is Twitter! Slow cooker owners were unanimous in their praise, nay fervour, for the mini marvel: cheap cuts of meat transformed in to luscious mid-week meals with no more effort than pressing the on button on your way out to work. The other essential tip which everyone agreed on was to buy a cheap machine – there was no one saying they had spent mega-bucks. After all, what’s the point of cheap cooking if you have spent £100 to do it?
So I made some room on the worktop and took a trip to the supermarket. There was an absolute bargain £8 model, but I wanted one that would fit a whole chicken or substantial leg of lamb, so we found a 3.5l Crockpot which was half price at about £17. Maybe the only useful thing I have ever found in the January sales!
I’ve been in love with it ever since. We got a couple of books out of the library, as I didn’t want to restrict myself to stews and in the couple of weeks since bringing it home, I’ve already had my money’s worth!
First up, I did go for a stew. I tweaked a Nigella recipe for Belgian beer braised beef and made a dish of beef which falls apart on the fork. Secondly, two massive racks of pork ribs went in with a Chinese sauce made of spices, soy, honey and teriyaki. Next up I found a dish in one of the recipe books which I hadn’t considered: dhal. I don’t know why, but my past attempts at dhal had always been crap. But this used red lentils, tomatos and spices and is delicious. I served some with the spiced lamb shoulder (recipe from Delicious magazine) I cooked the following day, and the rest is in the freezer.
But all of this has been leading up to a major breakthrough- chicken. Now the slow roast chicken itself was no better or worse than a normal roast chicken. Yes, the white meat was still moist and it was all very tender. But when I put the chicken in I also roughly chopped an onion, a few bits of celery and a seen-better-days carrot. When the bird was cooked, I stripped the meat off and added the bones and skin back into the pot with the veg and cooking juice. Loads of seasoning, a jug of boiling water and it went back in the slow cooker, on high setting, until I went to bed which was about three hours.
The next evening I chucked the congealed mess into a pan, heated and strained. And there is was: the most delicious chicken stock known to man. It was dark with surprisingly rich flavours. The cooking juice from the initial seven hour plus the extra blast on the bones brought every last drop of flavour out.
I was tempted to serve it up as soup it was that tasty, but instead used it to make a risotto with some of the leftover chicken for a cheap as chips Monday night feast.
Chicken might not immediately spring to mind when you get your slow cooker out, but it really is worth it for stock that money can’t buy.