Many recipes lend themselves to conversion to cooking in a slow cooker, with soups and stews long having been natural favorites among slow cooker enthusiasts. Casseroles and most meats can also benefit greatly from the low temperatures and even cooking heat produced by a slow cooker.
When cooking by this method, you would normally reduce the amount of liquid a recipe calls for, since liquids do not evaporate during slow cooker cooking. There are exceptions, however: if you are cooking rice, beans, or pasta, then do not reduce the amount of liquid normally called for (you generally need twice as much liquid as product to cook these ingredients).
It is generally preferred to cook most raw meat and vegetable combinations for at least 8 hours, on LOW. This gives the vegetables time to soften, the meat time to tenderize and all the flavors to blend.
As one might imagine, it is rather difficult to give exact conversion information on how best to translate traditional oven recipes to the slow cooker. Below you will find some general guidelines for converting your favorite recipes to the slow cooker. Since slow cookers may vary widely, you should consult your product’s owner’s manual for instructions.
- Slow cookers may vary, but generally, the LOW setting is about 200° F and the HIGH setting is at or about 300° F. One hour on HIGH is approximately equal to 2-2½ hours on LOW. Most slow cooker recipes recommend cooking 8-10 hours on LOW. Based on the nature and texture of the food you are cooking, some recipes recommend the HIGH setting. You will have to judge your recipe accordingly. For example, beef cuts will be better cooked on LOW for 8-10 hours to get a more tender texture, where chicken can be cooked on HIGH for 2½-3 hours.
- You can reduce the amount of liquid used in most oven recipes when using the LOW setting, since slow cookers retain all the moisture that usually evaporates when cooking in the oven. Add liquids for sauces about an hour before the cooking time is done. You will normally end up with more liquid at the end of cooking times, not less. A general rule is to reduce liquids by half, unless rice or pasta is in the dish.
- Spices may need to be reduced or increased. Whole herbs and spices increase their flavoring power during slow cooker cooking, while ground spices may have lost some flavor. Add ground spices during the last hour of cooking. Whole leaf foods and herbs will probably need to be reduced by half.
- Rice, noodles, macaroni, seafood, Chinese vegetables and milk do not hold up well when cooked over 8-10 hours. Add these to sauces or liquid about 2 hours before serving when using LOW setting (or 1 hour on HIGH). If you want to use milk in an 8-10 hour recipe, it is better to use evaporated milk.
- Whether or not to brown meats before cooking is a matter of personal choice. Though not necessary, it will reduce the fat content of some meats if they are browned prior to cooking.
- Sautéing vegetables (like onions, etc) are not necessary, (except for eggplant which should be parboiled or sautéed prior due to its strong flavor). Just add them to the pot with everything else. You may wish to reduce quantities of stronger vegetables since they will permeate the other foods in the slow cooker with their full flavor.
- Dry beans can be cooked overnight on LOW as an alternative to soaking. Cover with water and add 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Drain and combine with other ingredients. Be sure beans are softened before adding to any sugar or tomato mixture.
- For best results, use long-grain parboiled/converted raw rice in recipes, and use standard liquid amounts instead of reducing the liquid. For mixed recipes requiring pasta, it’s best to cook the pasta separately to al dente texture and add just before serving.
- For soups, add water only to cover ingredients. If thinner soup is desired, more liquid can be added at the end of the cooking time.