Slow cooking is a blessing for busy people, and I’ve demonstrated quite a few dishes in our “Evening Meals Classes”. Its a case of showing how to prepare everything, and load it all into the the slow cooker, and then pull out one “that I prepared earlier” for them to eat. Good fun, and very tasty.
Ha, I Love Saying That! “Here’s one I prepared earlier”
Many students have mentioned that they needed some help with developing robust flavours in the slow cooker. A lot have opted to use shop-bought sauces because without them the depth of flavour isn’t quite there. My students have tried many of my slow-cooked recipes without the use of shop-bought sauces. They’ve been a huge hit.
How to get flavour with a slow-cooker
First of all, I want to say you don’t necessarily have to own a slow cooker to slow cook food. If you have something that you can safely and consistently cook at 145 – 150ºc a for a high-temperature slow cook (this is done in around 4 – 4 hours), or 85 – 90ºc for a low-temperature slow cook (for an all-day cook), then you might be in business.
I’m currently using a Breville smart oven which has a slow cook function. Slow cookers are brilliant, and you don’t have to pay a lot for them (if that’s all you want it to do). Slow cookers are reasonably priced and I’m sure you can get one to suit your budget. There are some available for under $50 and paying double or triple doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily better as a slow cooker.
I’ve chosen to use this little “Smart Oven by Breville” because it does so many things, it’s always out on the kitchen bench because I use it just about every day. I didn’t feel the need to also keep a conventional slow cooker, as it would take up valuable space in my pantry.
You can use any oven, but this one is probably cheaper to run (being smaller than a wall oven). You can make this dish in anything that you can slow cook in or fast cook like a pressure cooker, but I chose to slow cook this meal because I had time in the morning and not at night.
Slow cooker tips
- Thickening Sauces: When I use meat in the slow cooker like Osso Bucco, you have a choices. One is to dust it in seasoned flour. That way, while the meal is cooking it’s busy creating its own sauce. Or there’s another trick of making a “Beurre Manie”. Pronounced “burr mahn yay”.
What is Beurre Manie? Is a French cooking term for a mix of 50/50 flour and butter kneaded together to form a sort of paste. I make up this paste then roll it into a log and place it in the freezer to use when I need it. You can usually find it in my freezer throughout the winter months because it’s so easy and convenient to have on hand.
Here’s how to use Beurre Manie: If you find you have too much liquid in your dish, near the end or at the end of cooking, you remove some of the liquid (around a cup) to a frying pan, cut off a knob of Beurre Manie and throw it into the pan. Cook it till the sauce thickens then add it back to the main pot and mix to combine. As the butter melts, the flour will thicken the soupy liquid without causing lumps. Brilliant hey! The ratio is about one tablespoon of Beurre Manie for every cup of cooking juices.
- Browning ingredients: If you want to develop flavour in your dish, you need to brown your meat. You know that rich, deep umami flavour we all love from slow-cooked meats? You can’t get them if you don’t brown them first. When you buy a pre-made sauce, they use all sorts of flavour enhancers in the mix. If you just chuck meat and veg in your slow cooker, you may not be happy with the results. So, spend a few minutes browning your meat in a pan. I also brown my veg, as that helps intensify the flavours, and while my pan’s still hot why not! Remember to season as you go.
- Tomato paste: should be cooked or roasted in a frypan before adding to the slow cooker. This will reduce that metallic flavour that you can get from “straight out of the pack tomato paste”. So, after browning the meat, do the tomato paste (if it’s in your ingredient list) use it to deglaze the pan then throw in the veg on top.
- When to prepare: You can always prepare some of the raw materials the night before if you don’t have a lot of time in the morning. In a perfect world, the ingredients going into your slow cooker should be at room temperature. So get up, take what you’ve organised for the slow cooker out of the fridge, and get ready for work. Just before you leave for the day, set everything in place for your low-temperature slow cook.
- Oils and Fats: I use a touch of oil to help brown my meat but I don’t add any oil to the slow cooker. You can remove any excess fat from the meat before you add it to the slow cooker. But leave a bit on, because fat is flavour – right!
- Liquid and Stocks: Don’t add any extra liquid to your slow cooker unless you’re making soup. If you have a recipe that is typically cooked on the stovetop, it might ask you to simmer it for an hour or so with 500ml to a litre of stock. If you’re planning on using the slow cooker, just leave it out. When you cook at a more rapid pace on the stovetop the liquid will evaporate, but in your slow cooker it’s got nowhere to go, and you’ll end up with it being too wet. There’s a lot of liquid in the ingredients you’re adding to your slow cooker, like onions, carrot, celery etc. and this slowly releases from the food and ends up as a natural sauce. Pssst, that’s why we added a touch of flour to the meat or you can use a Beurre Manie to help thicken in the last hour of cooking.
- Using a lid: Don’t keep removing the lid to stir or check it. This will significantly increase the cooking time. Every time you open the lid, you’re letting the heat escape. If you’re using your oven as I do, you need to use a pot with a lid or foil tightly fitted around the rim.
- Should I use LOW or HIGH on the slow cooker? Some slow cookers have the choice of high and low, but I prefer to use low. The reason I have chosen to use the slow cooker is that I’ve selected a cut of meat or things that I want at the end of a busy day. I think the low and slow method works better. Otherwise, you may as well choose to cook it on the stovetop – right!
- How to choose the right cut of meat for slow cooking: Most of the cheaper cuts will work fine in a slow cooker, but don’t go thinking that if you choose an expensive cut (ie. fillet steak) that it will work better. Fillet steak doesn’t have enough of the qualities to warrant slow cooking, it’s best for faster cooking. The longer you cook it the tougher it will get. You need to pick a cut of meat that will benefit from low and slow cooking. Different countries have different names for meat cuts so here’s a link to an Aussie site with cuts you’ll know. If you don’t know what the best cuts are, then ask your butcher. They love you to ask them, otherwise, they might be considered checkout chicks with a white coat. Ahahaaa
Osso Bucco in the slow cooker
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- Slow cooker
- 2 Tbs EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 1/2 onion or 1 small onion
- 1 celery stick
- 1 carrot (small
- 1 garlic clove
- 500 g Osso Bucco
- 3 tomato vine-ripened Roma are nice See my tips if it's not tomato season
- 5 sun-dried tomato pieces or tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- Heat a frypan on a medium-high heat and start your slow cooker to heat up
- Choose which method you'd like to use to make your sauce; read the tips above in my post. If you're going with the seasoned flour, do that now. Weigh the flour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper mix to combine. Dredge the Osso Bucco into the flour mixture to coat on all sides
- When the pan is hot add some oil and then your meat. Brown on both sides. BROWN. Remove and set aside in your slow cooker or tray.
- Prepare and slice your onion, add it to the frypan along with some EVOO. Turn the heat down. Keep an eye on the pan and stir when needed
- Prepare the celery and add
- Prepare the carrot and add
- prepare the garlic and add
- Remove the mirepoix “onion celery carrot etc” from the frying pan and add it to your slow cooker
- Chop your tomatoes and add them to the frying pan and use them to deglaze the pan.
- Add the remainder of the ingredients to the slow cooker along with the tomatoes and set for 8 hrs. or the longest setting on your slow cooker.
Want to know more?
Learn more about what an onion or two can do for your dish