Lessons I learned the hard way
I'm not accustomed to planning my meals ahead of time. That's just how I roll. But that had to change with the slow cooker.
I instituted "Slow Cooker Sunday," which is a bit silly I agree, but it helps me plan ahead. "Tomorrow is Slow Cooker Sunday," I'll think, "I need to get to the store today to buy meat."
2. Watch your amounts
Speaking of meat, I have learned that a four pound pork roast makes an awful lot of pulled pork. It's delicious, don't get me wrong! Easy, too: just cook the pork roast in the slow cooker for six hours, fork it apart, add a bottle of barbecue sauce, let it cook for another hour, then go to town.
But for one person? One person who doesn't have access to a working freezer? Yeah. I'm still tired of pulled pork, and that was two months ago.
3. Chicken should always be boneless and skinless
I prefer chicken thighs to chicken breast meat. More tender and flavorful. And cheaper, too! You can also knock about a dollar off per pound if you buy chicken thighs with the skin on and bone in.
But guess what? Disgusting things happen to bone-in skin-on chicken in the slow cooker. The skin slips off and becomes a slimy travesty. And the bones themselves aren't a big deal, but the little knobbly cartilage bits and tendons are very bad. Very bad indeed. They separate out and float away, lurking in every possible mouthful.
Do yourself a favor: spring for the boneless, skinless thighs. It's well worth the extra cost.
4. Simmer sauces are awesome! Pre-cooking is not.
I didn't get a Crock Pot in order to spend a lot of time cooking food. I always skim a recipe and if it requires you to do anything more than slice stuff up and throw it in the pot, I skip it. If I wanted to cook, I would be cooking.
A friend turned me on to "simmer sauces." Here's the idea: you blop a bunch of chicken thighs in the slow cooker, cover them with sauce, and cook it on low for 6-8 hours. So far I have done this with barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce (for chicken cacciatore), and two different brands of Tikka Masala curry sauce. Delicious!
5. Simmer off the water
I have a big problem with my crock pot stuff turning out super watery. I guess my onions are too juicy, I don't know. But most of the time, taking off the lid and cooking it on High for an hour simmers off the extra water and solves the problem.