Slow cooking is the perfect solution for cold weather lazy days. Slow-cooking lends itself to using cheaper cuts of meat as the long time spent in the oven allows the meat to tenderise and take on the flavours of the spices, herbs and seasonal vegetables cooked with it. Add some liquid, such as wine or stock, and you can conjure meals with all the magic of traditional flavour.
Another important factor is energy efficiency - cooking uses a lot of energy because the oven, grill and rings operate at very high temperatures. Slow cookers, however, usually cook for around 8 hours (while you are out and about) and use the same amount of electricity as a light bulb - that is somewhere between 5p and 12p for 8 hours of use!
Most dishes can be prepared in a few minutes in the morning, thrown in the slow-cooker, and will be ready when you need it. Foods retain more flavour and goodness, and your meal is ready exactly when you want it.
As with any cooking method, however, there are a trick to ensure success every time.
Always brown meat or chicken for a few minutes before placing it in the slow cooker, so that it seals and doesn’t become tough and rubbery. Make sure the oil is really hot and add the meat or chicken in batches otherwise it will not brown well. Browning the meat first will also give more depth of flavour to the cooked dish.
When you brown vegetables such as onions, garlic, peppers and carrots, add quicker-cooking vegetables last or they will become too mushy.
RECIPE FOR SLOW ROASTED CHICKEN
1 tbsp olive oil
3lb oven-ready chicken
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
1tsp dried tarragon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp cornflour
1) Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan, add the chicken and cook quickly, turning frequently, until browned all over. Transfer to your slow cooker
2) Lightly season the chicken with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the lemon rind, tarragon and lemon juice
3) Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours
4) Lift the cooked chicken out of the slow cooker and keep warm
5) Strain the juices into a jug and allow to settle for a moment, then spoon off the fat. Pour remaining juices into a small pan.
6) Blend the cornflour with a little cold water to make a paste and add to the juices in the pan, with enough water to make the required amount of gravy. Bring to the boil, stirring, until thickened. Season to taste and serve with the chicken.