I hope everyone had a wonder Christmas and holiday season! The kids are on their way back to school and it is time to get back into the swing of things. When the weather is cold and the schedules are hectic, there is nothing I love better than coming home to dinner ready (or practically ready) and waiting in my slow cooker. There is also the added bonus of the kitchen already cleaned up and very little to clean up after dinner.
The slow-cooker got a bit if a bad rap for lack luster meals and until the last few years, slow-cooker recipes consisted of chili, pulled pork, pot roast and more chili! I am the proud owner and loyal user of a cast iron Dutch-oven (okay, the owner of three) and it is my go-to for many things included slow oven braises. The only thing with the Dutch-ovens is that they do require a little bit of attention and they cook things must faster than a slow-cooker, so they don’t work for the “turn it on and forget it” cooking that is sometimes needed. So, I did a little research and realized that I could convert most of my favourite Dutch-oven recipes into slow-cooker recipes.
Here are some tips for converting Dutch-oven recipes to Slow Cooker Recipes that I have learned from my experiments. The first tip is a rule and should always be followed! The rest of them are guidelines. You are going to have to do a little experimentation yourself, so you might not want to try a conversion for the first time when the whole soccer team over for lunch after a game (cooking for a crowd is also a great benefit of slow-cookers). Remember to mark down the adjustments you make so when you hit the perfect dinner you can recreate it!
Sear Your Meat
The first tip, i.e. the rule, sear your meat. It is so worth it! Unless you have a slow-cooker with stove-top safe insert, this will mean a seperate pan. It will add flavour and depth to your slow-cooked food. It also renders some of the fat, which will prevent your finished dish from having a greasy layer on top. Don’t forget to deglaze the pan to transfer all that flavour to your slow-cooker. Just take about ½ to ¾ of a cup of the liquid you are using in the recipe and add it to the hot pan after you have removed the seared meat. Use a wooden spoon and scape all that goodness into the slow-cooker. If you are using an actual slow-cooker recipe that does not call for searing, sear it any way!!
Also think about your meat. The long, slow cooking process is more conducive to meats with a high fat content and more connective tissue. Things like pork tenderloin and chicken breasts tend not to be great in the slow-cooker. Instead think of pork shoulder, dark-meat chicken and marbled beef.
And lets not forget those veggies! If veggies are to be sautéed before being put in the Dutch-oven, they should also be sautéed before they go into the slow cooker. Sometimes root vegetable are added a little later in the cooking process so they don't get too soft. If this is the case in your Dutch-oven recipe, you should also add them later to your slow-cooker. I usually add them about 1/2 or 2/3 of the way through the cooking process.
Reduce the Liquid
When cooking in a Dutch-oven, liquid is allowed to evaporate. In a slow-cooker, all that liquid is collected in the lid and dropped back into what you are cooking. This means you need to start with less liquid in a slow cooker to prevent your sauce from being too runny. A good guideline is to use ½ to 1 cup less liquid than called for in a Dutch-oven recipe. However, do not reduce it by more than 50%. If your sauce is still too thin after the cooking is finished, you can transfer the sauce to a saucepan and reduce the sauce on the stovetop to concentrate the flavours.
If doing a large piece of meat, you want to reduce the liquid by the smaller amount. Slow-cookers take a while to heat up and part of how they do this is through the production of steam. A bit more liquid will help it get up to temperature faster, which is important for large pieces of meat.
Some say that you should use less seasoning in the slow-cooker because the flavours don’t blend as they do in a Dutch-oven on the stove or in the oven. Others say that you should up the seasoning as the extra liquid produced in the slow-cooker will dilute flavours. In my experience, just using what is called for in the original recipe is your best bet. We adjust for the increased liquid by reducing what we initially add and/or by reducing the finished sauce. You can also add a little more seasoning at the end if you feel it is needed.
The one thing to be careful with is adding wine or beer to the slow-cooker. The alcohol does not burn off in the slow-cooker as efficiently as it does in Dutch-oven cooking and can lead a sour taste in your finished dish. An easy fix is to use any alcohol in the recipe to deglaze your pan after searing the meat. This will burn off a lot of the alcohol before it is even added to the slow-cooker and ensure you only get the best flavours from the wine or beer.
A final note on seasoning. Whether I am using my slow-cooker or my Dutch-oven, I like to finish my dish with some chopped fresh herbs and/or a little dash of acid; a squeeze of citrus juice or a splash of wine vinegar. This just brightens and freshens the flavour. By the way, this trick also works great for leftovers!
This is probably the trickiest part, while I don’t have an answer for you, I do have a starting point.
- If recipe calls for a temperature of 300° or below, use LOW setting for 6 hours
- If recipe calls for stove-top simmering or a temperature above 300° use HIGH setting for 4½ hours
Start checking your dishes at the times above and add more time as necessary. Most recipes give you a description of the finished product, such as “falls off the bone” or “fork tender.” Use these to access your food and adjust the time from there.
Remember, converting a recipe is a bit of an experiment, so document what you do so you can replicate your results! Good luck and let us know in the comments below how it goes. Follow us on Facebook for some slow-cooker recipes and other great baking and cooking recipes and information!