Slow cooking has made a resurgence over the past few years. Partly due to lifestyle and easy to follow guidelines, but also partly down to the fact that it usually involves coarser, more economical cuts and making them taste wonderful regardless of the cheaper price point.
That all said, slow cooking can make for some pretty ordinary and bland meals, unless you are willing to explore with ingredients, flavours and textures. If you get things right, you should be able to spend around half the amount of money on the meat (compared to prime cuts) and get more than twice as many servings, giving you four times the economic benefit.
So what are you waiting for, regardless of whether you use a slow cooker, one-pot pan or casserole here are some meaty tips to improve your slow-cooking.
In general the cuts of meat that lend themselves to slow-cooking are somewhat ‘tougher’ than prime cuts used for roasting and frying. What this means in reality is that they have a higher concentration of connective tissue and the meat fibres are more resistant, because they come from the muscles that work hardest for the animal. The process of long slow cooking transforms these connective tissues into tender chewy gelatine, while at the same time it loosens the fibres, making the meat softer and more tender. The slower the simmer, the more subtle this action, so that the meat is not broken down altogether and the moisture is retained, to give lovely juicy meat.
Add Veg for Flavour
The holy trinity of vegetables to aid the slow cook is onion, carrots and celery - probabally in that order. Onion is a must for the natural sweetness, while carrots bring subtle non-offensive flavour, and celery rounds the other flavours in a stew like nothing else. Outside of these, you can take the law into your own hands, with other good veg, leeks, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, squashes and mushrooms all used from recipe to recipe.
Add Body (and fat if needed)
One of the best ways to add body and flavour to slow-cooked dishes is stock. Ideally the stock should be made from bones, or if you don’t have any stock to hand, add a few bones into the pot. That said, you’ll have to skim the stew if you’re adding bones direct, and there are some good pre-made stocks on the market now, so you don’t have to make it from scratch (which is probably easier than you’d think).
Stir for Flavour
In a good stew, fat will naturally go into the sauce as it simmers, and some will work into the meat. A gentle stir now and again, from the top to bottom rather than the edges, will help redistribute fat that rises to the surface. We’re not advocating slow-cooked dishes should be swimming in fat, and you should always skim off excess fat from the surface, but do this at the end of cooking, as during the cooking process fat is good.
Rest (ideally overnight)
If possible, the best stews and casseroles are made a day or two in advance of them being used. This helps bring out the flavours in the dish, as the meat reabsorbs the liquor. If you don’t have time to do this, it’s still a good idea to let slow cooked meat or stew rest for half an hour to an hour before serving. Along with the meat relaxing and reabsorbing, it will also bring the stew down to a temperature below scalding, meaning everyone will enjoy it more.
So that’s it, our meaty guide to stewing success. We hope it helps you along the road to slow cooked perfection, and let us know if you have any tips of your own, we’d love you to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org