Crock Pot Cooking Tips

Crock Pot Cooking Tips

We love slow cookers!

A slow cooker often called a crock-pot, is an electrical appliance that slowly cooks food at a low temperature by simmering.

Winter is here, the days are getting shorter and colder, and after a long day of work, it can be exhausting to think about preparing a healthy meal. With a little-advanced planning, a slow cooker does all the work for you. Most recipes cook for 6-8 hours—coincidentally the amount of time that most of us sleep. These recipes involve very little prep work. I’m talking very little: peel, chop, toss it in.

They’re also practically error-proof thanks to ultra-low cooking temperatures and built-in shut-off timers. My biggest and most over-dramatized concern in life is that crock-pot recipes, which traditionally involve fatty meats and salty broths, will be conflated with the perils of a buttery casserole: namely, that they’re not healthy for you.

There are plenty of ways to avoid this less-than-healthy turn. The next time you find a slow cooker recipe to try, keep in mind these potential slow cooker recipe substitutions.

Low sodium broth for standard broth
Most recipes call for broth. Be sure to choose the “low sodium” version, or replace half of the content with water. With enough seasoning your dish should still be flavorful. If needed, you can add a controlled amount of salt to the finished product.

Milk for heavy cream
Some creamy soups, like potato and cream of broccoli, call for heavy cream, which is loaded with saturated fat. Instead, use whole milk or 2% milk and reduce the measurement by 1/4. You may have to let the soup cook a little longer to create a thicker consistency.

Low sodium vegetable broth for dairy
You can opt out of dairy ingredients altogether by using low sodium vegetable broth instead. To get the comfort of a creamy soup without all the fat, blend cannellini beans in a food processor with just enough unsweetened almond milk or skim milk to make a thick paste. When your crock-pot concoction is nearly done, stir in your bean mixture.

Beans for meat
Don’t hesitate to make a vegetarian substitute. If a recipe calls for a sausage or ground beef, you can easily replace it with a can of beans without changing the temperature or cooking time. My personal favorite meat-swap is for kidney beans. They hold up well during long hours of cooking without becoming too soft.

Turkey, Slow-Cooker Style

If you’re not cooking for a crowd, or you’d like a little turkey on a night that isn’t a holiday dinner, America’s Test Kitchen has an interesting method to try: Use your slow cooker. You’ll get moist meat, a thick, savory gravy, and if you do it right, you can even have that crispy skin. Here’s how.

To make this happen, you’ll want turkey breasts, not a whole bird. It’s tough to cook a whole bird in a crock pot (although you can cook a chicken in a crock pot if you try) First, to get that crispy skin, ATK suggests you take the skin off of the breast first and cook it separately. Doing this will allow you to take the rendered fat and the fond from browning the skin and add it all to the gravy in the crock pot along with the turkey breasts.

From there, you make an extra thick roux to start your gravy, add that to the slow cooker too, pop in the turkey breasts, set it, and forget it. By the time the turkey is to temp, you’ll have gently cooked moist meat in bubbling delicious gravy, all in the same pot, ready to serve at the same time. It’s simple, easy, and a great solution if Thanksgiving it only a handful of people—or even just for two, or even if you just want to enjoy a nice turkey dinner on any other day of the year.

With the help of the slow cooker, making turkey with gravy doesn’t necessarily have to occupy the oven on one of the busiest kitchen days of the year. Using just the turkey breast makes this recipe easier to manage, and the gentle heat of the slow cooker ensures that the white meat is tender and moist—not dried out.

Our best test-kitchen discovery? Browning a whole turkey breast is a daunting task, so we decided to remove the skin and brown it separately. This allowed us to get fat, fond, and flavorful dripping for our gravy. After rendering the skin we then added it to the slow cooker, which added even more flavor to our turkey breast. Putting an extra-thick roux-and-broth mixture into the slow cooker at the outset means that once it combines with the turkey juices, the resulting gravy is the perfect consistency.

Cooking turkey in this manner is especially useful if you’re planning on having a smaller gathering this  holiday (the recipe serves 8-10 people). It’s also relatively low maintenance. Don’t want to spend your entire day tending to a big bird in the oven? After approximately 20 minutes of prep, let the slow cooker do the work. Five to six leisurely hours later, you’ve got yourself a tender, juicy Holiday dinner.

by Linda Slater-Dowling