Is it worthwhile buying a slow cooker?

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Winter is well and truly with us here in the Snowy Mountains.

One of the things that makes the cooler month bearable for me is the chance to get creative with slow cooked food. We’re talking stews, casseroles, soups and tajines. All those dishes that simmer away for hours, keeping you company while you do other things.

The first time I heard someone talk about their ‘Slow Cooker’, I was intrigued. As a minimalist, I’m not much of a fan of single-use kitchen appliances. But given my love of osso buco, maybe a slow cooker would be useful?

And so I conspired to include a Slow Cooking class in the curriculum for the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School, because then I’d have to get one so I would know what I was talking about…

To be honest I haven’t been that impressed with my Slow Cooker efforts, compared with my trusty old oven. The slow cooker textures have been wonderful but I’ve found things lacking in flavour.

So, to help decide whether the slow cooker should stay, I’ve conducted a little experiment cooking the same dish at the same time using the oven and the slow cooker.

first, a few definitions…

slow cooker – A stand alone electric device designed to cook things like stews and soups at very low temperatures for long periods of time.

crock pot – brand name for a particular make of slow cooker.

pressure cooker
– a pot that is designed to be sealed so food can be cooked on the stove under pressure. The pressure increases the boiling temperature of water which in turn reduces cooking times. Think the dish that exploded on Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys.

the experiment

Cook a simple coq au vin (chicken & red wine casserole) in the slow cooker and in a cast iron pan the oven to compare the differences.

The oven was set to 100C (210F) and the slow cooker set to HIGH. The ingredients for both were exactly the same except I used half the amount of wine in the slow cooker, as per the instruction manual.

the results?

We had a tie, of sorts.

The Slow Cooker won on texture.
The chicken from the slow cooker was noticeably moister and more tender. Although to be fair, the oven chook was still pretty tender.

The Oven won on flavour and appearance.
While the slow cooker chicken tasted like red wine with a bit of chicken flavour, the oven sample had all the lovely richness you’d expect from a great coq au vin.

In the looks department, our slow cooked bird was so pale it would be camouflaged in a snow storm, while our oven baked friend looked plump and healthy with an almost terracotta tan.

so is it worthwhile buying a slow cooker?

It depends.

For me, No.

I can’t justify the space, given I work from home and enjoy having something in the oven to check on throughout the day.

For others, maybe, Yes?
If you work away from home and love slow cooked meals, I can imagine using the slow cooker quite a bit during the Winter. Or if you live somewhere without a decent oven…

video version of the experiment & recipe

note: In the video I used whole chickens, but I actually prefer to use chicken marylands (thighs with drumsticks attached) for this recipe.

keen to master the art of set and forget meals?

slowcooking logo

Our Simple Slow Cooking Class starts 2nd July.

Australian residents who sign up in the next 72 hours will have a chance to win my (almost new) Electric Slow Cooker!

Click here to join us today.

coq au vin7

super simple coq au vin
serves 4

My super simple version of this classic French dish is almost the complete opposite of Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Where Julia browns her chicken and cooks the onion, mushrooms and bacon separately, I like to pop them all in together and let the long, slow cooking process work its magic.

Feel free to add to this very basic recipe. A little bacon would be my first addition. Followed by a couple of bay leaves or some thyme.

In the video I’ve used whole chickens because I was too lazy to chop them up. But next time I would go to the extra effort so the chicken pieces cook more quickly and have more surface area to soak up the wine. Or use chicken marylands or thighs on the bone.

4 chicken marylands (thighs with drumstick attached)
4 small onions, peeled & halved
8-12 large button mushrooms
4 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4cup OR 1 1/2cups red wine

1. Preheat oven to 100C (210F). Or get your slow cooker ready.

2. Place chicken, onions, mushrooms and tomato paste in an ovenproof casserole dish or the bowl of your slow cooker.

3. Pour over 3/4 cup wine for the slow cooker or 1 1/2cup for the oven method.

4. Cover with a lid. Place the slow cooker on HIGH or place the casserole in the oven and cook for 5 hours. Or until the chicken is tender and the vegetables are cooked. Taste and season.

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jules June 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Yes I’m thinking curries is where the slow cooker would come into its own – will have to try and report back.
And love where you’re thinking with the 10 minutes active time ;)

If you have more time… definitely go for the low setting. I just went for high to get closer to my oven temp.. and so my experiment would be quicker

kylieonwheels June 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Oh my! Jules you simply MUST play with it some more. Ok, I see you are fortunate enough to work from home (and yes, I’m jealous – I’ll think of you while I’m riding to work in the -4 mornings just up the road in Canberra ;-) ), but this little gem is not one to dismiss so soon.

I do brown the meat before it goes in, but honestly, it’s no effort at all. One dirty pan, and no extra time if you just chuck it in while you prep your other ingredients. If you find that your liquids aren’t flavoursome enough (or watery) at the completion of cooking you can put them in a pot to reduce a bit before serving (some recipes recommend cornflour too).

It does take a bit of experimenting, and it can be hard to find good recipes too, but I think I’ve just turned a bit of a corner with mine. I cooked a boneless roast pork on Saturday (stuffed with prunes, cooked in spicy apricot nectar) and it was the stuff of dreams :-)

jules June 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm

to answer your question:
Question: as it has the time while at work, would it be better to cook this recipe on LOW for a longer period?

If you have the time… absolutely go for the LOW setting.

Steve July 4, 2011 at 11:18 am

My wife and I LOVED it. Cooked it exactly as is (with Marylands), and added a little chopped bacon and some fresh thyme as suggested. Delicous! Expected at least the colour to not look awesome (from the experiment). Maybe it’s the quality of the slow cooker – I don’t know – but the colour was amazing as was the taste! Talk about fall off the bone!! A keeper!

jules July 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm

awesome steve
sl glad you liked it… and you raise an interesting point about slow cooker quality!

Caroline July 5, 2011 at 11:57 am

Hi Jules
Love your blog.
What is your opinion on quality of food from pressure cookers? I’ve recently purchased one and so far am very impressed. Being able to whip up a ragu in 45 minutes or a soup in 15 has made my weeknights a bit more interesting. Not to mention using less fuel. Would be interested in the same test but with a pressure instead of conventional cooking.

Lori July 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm

The problem with today’s slow cookers is they cook too fast. (thank you food safety litigation worries) I get much better results cooking on low, using much less liquid than is often called for and even, sometimes, propping open the lid if I notice any boiling or bubbling. While a long, slow cook in the oven is great during the winter, not something I would want right now in Georgia! With the slow cooker, you can get the long, slow cooked roast year round.

hsg July 20, 2011 at 6:58 am

Interesting attempt… but I think a few things went wrong in your experiment! As others have mentioned, you’ll get better results from the slow cooker if you brown the meat before putting it in, and cook on a low temperature.

But the main problem with your experiment, in terms of comparing the two methods, is that you kept taking the lids off. Each time you take off a slow cooker’s lid, you add 30-60 minutes to the overall cooking time—that’s why your oven cooked chicken was nicely browned and slipping off the bone and the slow cooked one was barely done! The comparison wasn’t really fair on the slow cooker!

Debs August 22, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Hi, I loved that blog about the slow-cooker, but can I just ask………
economy wise, isn’t the slow cooker more economicle than the oven?
and would the alcohol have been cooked out of the recipe in the slow cooker? I thought you had to boil wine to reduce it!!! Maybe I am wrong.

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