It’s no secret that I am obsessed with my slow-cooker! Most of you know that I have a cookbook, jam packed with my favorite slow cooker recipes. I also have an entire section on my blog, dedicated to slow-cooker recipes. And… I am working on a small series of slow cooker recipes that you can prep in under 5 minutes! Look out for those this week and next!
I honestly don’t think I could have stuck to a Paleo diet without this amazing tool. The Paleo diet is based around eating fresh, whole foods and it’s most effective if we do our own cooking. For some of us, this can prove to be difficult.
When I first started the Paleo diet, I was working long hours and I was often away from home from 5:30 AM to about 6PM. After a long day, it was so nice to get home to a warm and comforting meal waiting for us!
In order to stay on track, I would cook several huge batches of meals in the slow cooker over the weekend and freeze them, so we had meals all week. Even during the week, I would throw some stuff in the slow-cooker before I went to work. I think even now, we use our slow cooker at least 2-3x a week.
After years of experimenting with slow cooker recipes, I want to share a few of my favorite tips. Using these tips as your base, you can get creative and come up with your own recipes, based on flavors you and your family enjoy!
Slow cooker meals can always be made without following these steps… but these tips can turn an edible meal into a delectable meal!
5 Tips for Perfect Slow Cooker Meals
Tip 1: Browning & Sautéing
You can certainly skip this step and still make a decent slow cooker meal. Browning meat and sauteing certain vegetables, such as onions, garlic, carrot and celery can greatly improve the flavor of many dishes.
I usually use 1 tablespoon of ghee and cook the onions for about 5 minutes and I add the garlic and cook it for an additional minute, just until it is fragrant. I move that to the slow cooker. I toss the meat in all the spices that I plan to use. I add more cooking fat to the skillet if needed and I cook the meat until it is browned on all sides – usually a few minutes per a side.
Tip 2: Salt & pepper before serving
Salt tends to dissipate in the slow cooker, causing your dish to taste a little bland. I tend to use a regular amount in the beginning, but I always salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Tip 3: Add more herbs & spices towards the end
Like salt, the flavor of some spices tends to dissipate. If I am home, I check for flavor towards the end of cooking. If the meal is tasting bland, I add more dried spices and herbs and allow it to cook for 30 more minutes. Except for a select few recipes, I add fresh herbs after I am done cooking. Watch out for peppers, like cayenne or chili powder, these tend to intensify over longer cooking times.
Tip 4: Use flavorful bases
I never use water as my base. I always opt for liquid with more flavor, such as broth, wine, coconut milk or even salsa! Asian flavors like coconut aminos and tamari also hold up well in the slow cooker! Don’t want to make your own broth? Buy pasture-raised broth HERE.
Tip 5: Reduce
Slow cookers don’t allow liquid to evaporate and the liquid actually increases as foods like onion, give off liquid. Your meals can turn out really watery. I avoid this buy using a small amount of liquid to start off with. Unless, I am making a soup or a stew, I tend to only use about 1/4-1/2 cup of liquid. Even then, I sometimes end up with a watery dish.
If I don’t have time, I use a slotted spoon and remove the meat and veggies and leave the liquid behind. If I used bone-in meat, then we drink the liquid as a broth. This is actually healthy stuff, loaded with vitamins and minerals. If I want to fancy up the dish, I reduce the liquid and pour it back over the meat and veggies or serve it on the side.
To reduce the liquid, remove the meat and veggies and set aside. Pour the liquid into a saute pan and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently until the sauce has thickened to your liking.
- Add salt after you have thickened your sauce to avoid making the sauce to salty, as the flavors will concentrate when it thickens.
- To reduce faster, use a larger saute pan.
- You can add a couple of tablespoons of softened butter towards the end to create a more luxurious pan sauce.
- You can use arrowroot powder to thicken the sauce. Add 2 teaspoons to a small amount of filtered water (enough to make it a thin paste). Whisk it into the sauce as you bring the sauce to a simmer. Keep whisking the sauce until it has thickened, about 10 minutes.
These are my two favorite slow cookers: Hamilton Beach Programmable Model and Vita-Clay Multi-Cooker. You can read about why I like these 2 models in my post about the 15 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes.
Happy Slow Cooking!