Slowly does it

JAN BILTON
Last updated 14:05 26/06/2014
Crockpot vegetable gumbo.
JAN BILTON

SOUTHERN TAKE:Crockpot vegetable gumbo.

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Long and slow - what a delicious and easy way to make a meal

Casseroles and crockpots are a cook's best friend. A meal can be cooked in one pot without constant supervision. Nutritious and mouth-watering meals are achieved with the cheapest of ingredients. And although the cooking time is long, generally the preparation time is short.

Crockpots and slow cookers are the same thing. In 1970, an American company registered the name crockpot but, like other brand names, the term is now generic. However, slow cooking can also be achieved in a casserole in the oven on very low heat. In general, a casserole in a 160 degree Celsius oven will take about two hours to cook. Whatever your choice, tough, cheap meats turn meltingly tender.

The gentle cooking process gradually breaks down the connective tissue until the meat is tender and juicy. The best lamb to buy is boneless shoulder or forequarter, shanks and shoulder and neck chops. The best beef buys are chuck, blade, skirt and topside steaks and gravy beef. The best pork is the foreloin and pork pieces.

Most casserole recipes cooked in a conventional oven can be cooked in a slow cooker. Because there is less evaporation less liquid is required. Some vegetables such as broccoli and spinach are best added half to three-quarters of the way through cooking to prevent them becoming mushy.

Slow cookers work by slowly coming up to heat - about 100C - then holding that temperature. On the high setting the cooker comes up to heat more quickly than on the ‘low' setting.

Vegetarian recipes will take less time to slow cook than meaty recipes so they are best prepared and cooked closer to meal time and not left to simmer all day.

Any recipe that takes eight hours in a slow cooker will take about two hours in a conventional oven at 160C.

CROCKPOT VEGETABLE GUMBO

This take on a traditional Southern gumbo includes frozen okra available from Asian food stores and some supermarkets. Okra helps to thicken the mixture.

700g pumpkin
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp plain flour
1 cups vegetable stock
400g can each: diced tomatoes, kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen okra
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning

Peel and seed the pumpkin. Cut into 3cm cubes. Place in a crockpot (slow cooker).

Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a frying pan. Saute the onion, until softened. Add the celery and garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add to the crockpot.

Heat the remaining oil. Stir in the flour until golden brown. (This is a traditional step in making a Southern gumbo.) Stir in the stock and bring to the boil. Pour into the crockpot. Add the remaining ingredients.

Cover and cook on low for about 5 hours. Great served on rice. Serves 4-6.

LAMB STIFADO

A delicious Greek-style lamb dinner.

Trim the lamb of any excess fat. It can be cooked on low in a slow cooker for 6-7 hours. Use half the beef stock required for the casserole.

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Stifado:

400g can chopped Italian tomatoes
1kg boneless lamb shoulder
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 each: cinnamon stick, fresh bay leaf
cup each: red wine, beef stock
8 small shallots, peeled but left whole

Gremolata:

  • cup coarsely chopped mint
  • Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp each: lemon juice, olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Place the tomatoes in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by about half. Cut the lamb into 4cm pieces. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Saute the lamb in batches, until lightly browned. Place in a casserole.

Saute the onion, until softened. Add to the casserole with the remaining ingredients for the stifado. Pour the tomatoes over the top. Cover and cook for 2 hours or until tender.

Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the gremolata. Serve on top of the stifado. Serves 4-6.

CHICKEN & CRANBERRY CASSEROLE

This casserole an be cooked at 180C for 1 hour. Slow cooking improves the flavours.

1kg skinned and boned chicken thighs

1-2 Tbsp olive oil

2 rashers rindless bacon, chopped

1 onion, diced

1 tsp dried thyme

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

cup orange juice

2 Tbsp maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Saute the chicken thighs in batches in the olive oil in a frying pan until lightly browned all over. Place in a casserole.

Saute the bacon, until browned. Saute the onion, until softened. Add both to the casserole. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours. Potatoes can be baked at the same time. Serves 4-6.

SUCCULENT SLOW-COOKED PULLED PORK

1.25kg boned, lean pork shoulder

cup firmly packed brown sugar

cup hoisin sauce

cup each: vegetable stock, balsamic vinegar

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp finely grated root ginger

1 large shallot, diced

1 Tbsp cornflour

2 Tbsp water

Place the pork in a slow cooker or crockpot. Combine the brown sugar, hoisin sauce, stock and balsamic vinegar. Mix well. Add the garlic, root ginger and shallot. Pour over the pork. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove the pork to a chopping board. Reserve the liquid.

Using two forks, shred the pork into small pieces. Place in a bowl. Pour the liquid into a saucepan. Combine the cornflour and water to make a paste. Stir into the liquid. Simmer, until thickened. Pour enough over the pulled pork to moisten well.

Serve between hamburger or slider buns topped with a tangy coleslaw. Or serve on rice and top with fresh herbs. Serves 6.

- The Marlborough Express

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