We’d normally think of the slow cooker as a vital piece of autumn and winter kitchen gear; you can sling pretty much whatever you like into one, and after eight or nine hours you’re guaranteed to end up with a passable hands-off stew. However, just because the weather is warmer and lockdown has left some of us with more time for labour-intensive dishes, the slow cooker is to be ignored at your peril. If you’re smart, it will come in handy throughout the summer – not least because it saves you sweating over a hot oven. Here are some of the best slow-cooker summer recipes.
We will start with a classic, versatile main. A slow cooker is the right size to fit a whole chicken, and the long, slow cooking time adds a succulent, rotisserie-style texture to the meat. Downshiftology’s Lisa Bryan gets crispy chicken skin by putting the bird in dry and then finishing it under the grill for a minute or two. Few foods are as versatile as roast chicken, and you can always use the meat for salads, curries or stir-fries, or just eat it with your hands.
Pulled pork might easily be the most overdone food trend of the last decade – remember when KFC started selling pulled chicken to prove its spurious hipster credentials? – but, listen, it tastes nice and not everyone wants to ride the culinary zeitgeist 24/7. Plus slow cookers are made for pulled pork. Chowhound’s recipe is beautifully spiced and just moist enough. A 2kg pork shoulder is relatively cheap, and will provide a family with several meals.
While we are on the subject of slow-cooked barbecue-style meats, it would be remiss of me not to mention North/South Food’s recipe for Marmite rubbed ribs, which uses the spread as a kind of savoury ultra-miso. Smear two tablespoons on a kilo of short ribs, marinate for 36 hours and then slow cook for a further eight. The author doesn’t usually like Marmite, but concedes: “The sharp bitterness mellows into a soft, salty tingle that gives depth and layers to food, yielding darkly delicious, savoury meat.”
Something as relatively slight as a frittata may strike you as an odd choice to drag your slow cooker out of its cupboard for, but Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann, authors of Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, claim that it is time well spent. Soften veg in a frying pan, tip it into the slow cooker with 12 beaten eggs, then cook for an hour. A word of warning, though: a slow cooker frittata is best eaten warm.
If you would rather use your slow cooker for sides, it is a surprisingly good instrument for potato salad; especially if, like me, you have a tendency to take your eye off the ball and end up serving everyone wet mash. Chris Foster of 12 Tomatoes makes his by adding flour, mustard and vinegar to raw chopped potato and onion, and cooking it on the lowest setting for five hours.
Most homemade salsas will leave you questioning the point of the shop-bought stuff, and The Magical Slow Cooker’s recipe is no exception. It is incredibly easy, too: fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, onion, chillis and garlic go into the slow cooker for three hours. Blend it with salt and coriander, and you’re done.
Friends of mine swear by making porridge in a slow cooker – they make it before bed so it is ready for the morning – but the weather’s too hot for porridge and my friends are weird. Better, however, is Amy’s Healthy Baking’s recipe for slow-cooked granola. It is deceptively easy to make, with clusters forming thanks to the addition of egg white. The trick is to slightly vent the lid during cooking, to stop the oats from going soggy.
Dulce de leche
Don’t forget that a slow cooker is a perfect vehicle for desserts, too. Crazy for Crust has discovered that it takes all of the faff – and deep-seated fear of violent kitchen explosions – out of dulce de leche. By using the slow cooker as a water bath for mason jars full of condensed milk, you can cut out most of the hard work. And then, with your jar of dulce de leche, you have exactly what you need to make Nigella’s no-churn salted caramel ice cream.
Similarly, you can use the water-bath method to make creme brulee without the terror of dragging a baking tin full of boiling water out of an oven. Maryanne Cabrera from The Little Epicurean flavours hers with tea before leaving the puddings to set for three hours in her slow cooker. Obviously it is creme brulee, so you still have to caramelise the sugar with a blowtorch, but after all that waiting it is probably quite cathartic to attack something with fire.
• This article was amended on 28 July 2020 to remove a recipe which did not recommend boiling dried beans before slow-cooking them. The Food Standards Agency says that failing to do this means it’s unlikely that the required temperature needed to destroy any toxins present in the beans will be reached.
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