Jerk Chicken in a Slow Cooker

Pieces of raw chicken meat on a white background

Serves 4

In this recipe the chicken is marinated for 24 hours then cooked slowly in a slow cooker. The meat is soft and delicious and has all the essential flavours of Jamaican jerk chicken.

You can buy slow cooker liner bags from Amazon or some cook shops. I don’t often use them but for this dish they come in to their own. You place all of the ingredients in the bag to marinate and then place the bag in the slow cooker to cook the dish. It’s incredibly easy and, as an added benefit, the bowl of the slow cooker doesn’t get dirty so with a quick wipe your washing up is done.

1 red onion, peeled and chopped
5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 ½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 fresh green chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped (don’t skimp here, this dish needs heat)
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Juice of ½ an orange juice
8 medium chicken leg portions (thighs or drumsticks or a mix of the two), skin removed

Blitz all of the ingredients, except for the last 4 (sugar, vinegar, juice and chicken) in a blender until you have a rough puree. Add the sugar, vinegar and orange juice and blitz again until the mixture is smooth.

Pour the mixture into a slow cooker food bag, add the chicken and seal with wire ties. Give everything a good squish to make sure all the chicken is coated and place in the fridge for 24 hours.

To cook, remove the wire ties and place the bag in the bowl of a slow cooker. Scrunch or fold down the top of the bag to form a rough seal. Cook on high for 1 hour, then on low for 4 hours.

I like to serve this with rice and peas and, if you are feeling healthy, a green salad on the side.

Simple Chicken Vindaloo

Raw chicken thighs

Serves 4

The eagle-eyed amongst you will see this recipe is virtually identical to my simple pork vindaloo recipe. I’m giving it here because I know some people prefer chicken to pork.

I find that meat curries absorb spices more readily than chicken curries do, so chicken curries tend to be hotter. I add sweet peppers to this recipe to temper the heat.

I use Patak’s vindaloo spice paste, simply because that is the brand that my local supermarket stocks but I’m sure other brands will work just as well.

Be careful not to add too much salt at the start. Shop-bought spice pastes are quite salty to start with. You can always add more salt later but you can’t take it away!

My slow cooker has three settings – low, medium and high. I find I get the best results if I start it off on medium for one hour and then turn the heat down to low for the rest of the cooking time. If you don’t have a medium setting, just cook it on low from the start.

4 sweet peppers (mixed colours), deseeded and chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 chicken thighs (bones in and skin on)
3 onions, sliced
2 tsp minced garlic (from a shop bought jar)
2 tsp minced ginger (from a shop bought jar)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 x 283g jar of Patak’s Vindaloo Spice Paste
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (I use Mutti pulped tomatoes)
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in a little boiling water
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons (at least) of red wine vinegar

Lightly oil the bowl of a 6.5 litre slow cooker and add the chopped peppers. (If your slow cooker is smaller, just scale down the ingredients.)

Heat the oil in a wide based pan then brown the chicken in batches, using a slotted spoon to remove each batch to a bowl once it is browned. Once all the chicken has been browned, add a little more oil to the pan if needs be then slowly soften and brown the onions, approx. 20 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the black pepper and vindaloo spice paste and stir fry for another minute, making sure the mixture doesn’t catch.

Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, stock, salt and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Return the pork to the pan and bring it all up to a gentle simmer.

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker, give it a stir and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of that time you may find a lot of oil has risen to the surface (the amount will depend on how fatty your chicken was). Skim off and discard the oil, then give everything a good stir. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning adding salt if needs be and adding cayenne pepper if you want to crank up the chilli heat.

Lamb and Vegetable Soup in a Slow Cooker

Lamb shanks lr

Serves 4 as a main course

This is a hearty and filling main course soup, and thanks to the spicing, works well in summer or winter. Lamb shanks are quite bulky so this is where my large 6.5 litre slow cooker comes into its own. If you have a smaller slow cooker you will need to reduce the portions.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 lamb shanks
3 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp chopped garlic
Spice mix made with 2 tsp ground coriander, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground black pepper and a pinch of salt
1 litre beef stock (I make it with 2 Oxo cubes)
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
5 celery sticks, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
2 large sweet peppers, deseeded and cut into bite sized pieces
2 large red chillies, deseeded and finely diced
2 bulbs of fennel, trimmed and finely sliced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and brown the lamb shanks all over, removing them to the bowl of your slow cooker once done. You will need to brown the shanks in two batches to avoid over-crowding the pan.

Add the onions to the pan and sauté until softened, approx. 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the spice mix and stir-fry for another minute, adding a splash of stock if it starts to catch.

Pour in the stock and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add all of the vegetables and return to a simmer. Pour the mixture over the lamb shanks in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 9 hours.

When the time is up remove the lamb shanks and strip the meat from the bones, shredding it with two forks and removing any fat or gristle. Return the meat to the slow cooker. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Cook for another hour on low then, before serving, skim any excess oil that has risen to the surface.

Beef Casserole in a Slow Cooker

beef-cubed-lr

Serves 4

This is an excellent and simple beef casserole. It doesn’t need anything to go with it because of the large amounts of vegetables in it. However, it throws off a lot of sauce so if mashed potatoes are your thing, go for it!

8 carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
8 celery sticks, cut into bite sized pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1kg stewing beef (shin beef, braising steak, knuckle etc.) cubed
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
250ml red wine
500ml beef stock (I use an Oxo cube)
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
A generous pinch of chilli flakes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp Marmite
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Several sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)

Place the carrots and celery in the bowl of your slow cooker.

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan and brown the beef in batches, removing each batch to a bowl once browned. Next sauté the onions until soft and starting to colour. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute.

Sprinkle in the flour and continue to cook, stirring. If it starts to catch, add a splash of stock. Continue to stir adding the wine splash by splash, then pour in the stock and cook uncovered until the mixture has thickened and reduced. This is important to get rid of the alcohol.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and the beef, bring the mixture to a simmer, then pour it over the carrots and celery in the slow cooker bowl. Give everything a good stir, cover and cook on low for 9 to 10 hours.

Ratatouille in a Slow Cooker

Ratatouille in a Slow Cooker lr

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish

Ratatouille is a classic Mediterranean vegetable stew. It is great as an accompaniment to just about any meat or poultry or you can use it as a base for pasta sauces. I like to eat a big bowl full of it simply with crusty bread or potatoes.

I cook this dish in a slow cooker which I find intensifies the flavours of vegetables. I use a 6.5ltr slow cooker so there is plenty to portion up for the freezer.

This dish is vegan and vegetarian.

5 mixed colour peppers (capsicums), deseeded and cut into bite sized pieces
4 medium courgettes cut into bite sized pieces
1 large aubergine cut into bite sized pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium red onions, roughly chopped
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped
A large handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
700g best quality passata
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
Salt
Ground black pepper

Place the peppers, courgettes and aubergine in the bowl of your slow cooker.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onions until starting to soften and colour, approx. 7 minutes. Add the garlic and basil and stir fry for 1 minute. Stir in the passata, vinegar, sugar, chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then pour over the vegetables and stir to mix well.

Cook covered in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. If you are about give it a good stir half way through, taste it and adjust the seasoning. But if you are not about, don’t worry; you can do this at the end of the cooking time.

Simple Pork Vindaloo

Pork Vindaloo lr

Serves a hungry 4

In my last post I talked about all things slow cooker. So, as you might expect, here is another slow cooker recipe.

This is possibly the easiest recipe I have ever published. It shows that you don’t need to slave in the kitchen to serve up fabulously tasty food.

I recently published a recipe for a simple pork curry cooked in a slow cooker. This is a very similar dish, but even easier! It really does show that with the right basic techniques you can make a fantastic curry very simply using shop bought ingredients. This is where a slow cooker shows its mettle. The results are delicious.

I use Patak’s vindaloo spice paste, simply because that is the brand that my local supermarket stocks but I’m sure other brands may work just as well.

Be careful not to add too much salt at the start. Shop-bought spice pastes are quite salty to start with. You can always add more salt later but you can’t take it away!

My slow cooker has three settings – low, medium and high. I find I get the best results if I start it off on medium for one hour and then turn the heat down to low for the rest of the cooking time. If you don’t have a medium setting, just cook it on low from the start.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.5kg pork neck (or shoulder), trimmed and cubed (I get my butcher to do this for me)
3 onions, sliced
2 tsp minced garlic (from a shop bought jar)
2 tsp minced ginger (from a shop bought jar)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 x 283g jar of Patak’s Vindaloo Spice Paste
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (I use Mutti pulped tomatoes)
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in a little boiling water
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons (at least) of red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a wide based pan then brown the pork in batches, using a slotted spoon to remove each batch to a bowl once it is browned. Once all the pork has been browned, add a little more oil to the pan if needs be then slowly soften and brown the onions, approx. 20 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the black pepper and vindaloo spice paste and stir fry for another minute, making sure the mixture doesn’t catch.

Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, stock and salt and bring to a simmer. Return the pork to the pan and bring it all up to a gentle simmer.

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of that time you may find a lot of oil has risen to the surface (the amount will depend on how fatty your pork was). Skim off and discard the oil, then give everything a good stir. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning adding salt if needs be. Stir in the red wine vinegar.

If the sauce is too runny, turn the heat on your slow cooker up to high and continue to cook uncovered until it has reduced sufficiently. I find this generally takes about an hour. Once the sauce is the right consistency, put the lid back on the slow cooker, turn the heat down to low and leave it to continue cooking until you are ready to serve. I typically cook this dish for about 10 hours in all.

Slow Cookers – A Guide to Buying and Cooking

Slow Cooker lrI like to use a slow cooker sometimes. It can be convenient to prepare your ingredients, chuck them into a slow cooker and go out for the day. Even if you’re not going out, it can be convenient not to have to keep checking and stirring and adding liquid etc.

One proviso though. The results you get from a slow cooker are different than conventional cooking on the hob or in the oven, so you’ll need a bit of trial and error to work out what works and what doesn’t. It’s worth the effort though, because some recipes work better in a slow cooker.

Don’t cut corners! There are plenty of recipes on the internet that tell you to simply chuck all of your ingredients raw into the slow cooker, turn it on and come back several hours later to a delicious meal. Some of those recipes may work but most won’t. If you normally first brown your meat, soften your onions, stir-fry your garlic, reduce your wine and bring everything to a simmer before braising it on the hob or in the oven, then do just that when using your slow cooker too. The slow cooker is there to replace the braising bit, not the prep.

Essential – an oval shape, a removable cooking pot with a non-stick finish, a warning light, as a minimum a choice of 2 heat settings of low and high, and a see through lid are all essential. All other features are not essential and simply come down to your own personal preferences.

Capacity – 4.5 litres seems about right for most people for every day cooking, although mine is 6.5 litres. I prefer the larger cooker because I can batch cook and freeze left overs. In order to cook safely the cooker must be half full. But for smaller amounts of food you can put the food in a small oven-safe pot or heat-resistant liner bag and then put that inside the slow cooker. So it’s possible to cook small amounts in a big cooker but not big amounts in a small cooker.

Shape – Oval is best as it will accommodate oblong cuts of meat and whole chickens.

Cleaning – It should have a removable pot; most do. This not only makes cleaning easier but also serving of food too. Non-stick is best and it may be a bonus if it is dishwasher proof, although it is probably too big to go into the dishwasher very often.

Carry handles – It is handy if the inner pot has sturdy carry handles as the full pot can be heavy and hot.

Warning light – It must have a warning light so you can tell when it is on.

Timer with a digital display – A timer function with a digital display is helpful but not essential. After all, you can always buy a separate electronic timer which you can also use for other things, not just slow cooking. And given the low cooking temperatures you’ll be using, most recipes don’t suffer if you stretch the cooking time. If your slow cooker does have a timer, make sure you can set it for short as well as long periods.

Keep warm function – This is handy in case you decide to eat a bit later than planned. But as mentioned, you’re usually cooking on low anyway, so you can stretch the cooking times.

Delayed start function – This is reported to be useful if you want to set everything up early, some time before cooking is due to start. However, I’m not convinced. Can you imagine having chicken sitting around at room temperature waiting to start cooking? I prefer not to poison my guests.

Digital clock – A digital clock that counts down is handy as you can then see how much cooking time is left. But given that cooking time is usually measured in hours, it’s not difficult to remember when it’s due to finish.

Automatic stir function – strangely enough, some recipes (not mine) call for stirring part way through. But I have to say that that somewhat defeats the point of a slow cooker which is that you can chuck everything in and forget about it! Anyway, just so you know, some slow cookers do have an automatic stir function. I haven’t seen this function in action but it must have moving parts that I suspect lead to cleaning issues.

See through lid – A see through lid is essential so that you can check on the food without taking the lid off. Taking the lid off can increase cooking time by 20 minutes or so, so don’t do it unless you have to.

General Tips
1. Add raw veggies first, then the meat. Vegetables take longer to cook than meat in a slow cooker.
2. The cooker heats up slowly so don’t take the lid off for the first 1 ½ hours.
3. If you get a hot spot in the slow cooker (often adjacent to the controls) add a collar of foil just to that spot (a few layers of heavy duty foil held in place by the food).
4. Different slow cookers cook at different temperatures. You’ll have to learn yours and be prepared to adjust recipes cooking times as needs be.
5. You can get slow cooker liner bags – plastic bags safe to cook in. You can put your food in the bag, seal it with string and then place the bag in the slow cooker and cook according to the recipe. This technique can be useful for keeping chicken (especially breasts) moist and for cooking small amounts. Using a liner bags also reportedly keeps the pot clean but I have to say that my pot is always easy to clean, so lining it seems like an unnecessary expense.
6. Use red skinned potatoes as they tend to hold their shape better over long, slow cooking times.
7. Every time you take the lid off (to stir or add ingredients) you lose steam. So, add 15 to 20 minutes extra cooking time for each time you lift the lid.
8. For best results, fill the cooking pot by at least a half and up to ¾ full. To cook smaller portions in a large cooker, put the food in a smaller oven proof dish and place that dish in the slow cooker. Alternatively, place the food in a liner bag and loosely tie it with string.
9. As a rule of thumb, 2 hours cooking on low is equivalent to 1 hour cooking on high. So, if time is short, turn the heat to high to halve the cooking time. Avoid doing this for less tender cuts of meat as they require the longer cooking time to become tender.
10. If adjusting a traditional recipe for a slow cooker, make sure there is some liquid in the mixture as slow cooking depends on steam. Conversely, less liquid will be lost using a slow cooker than with conventional cooking so reduce the amount of liquid in a traditional recipe by up to half if adapting it for a slow cooker.
11. If at the end of cooking there is too much liquid, either drain it into a saucepan and boil to reduce and return it to the slow cooker, or thicken it with a flour/butter paste or slackened cornflower or arrowroot or other thickening agent..
12. Don’t use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers.
13. If you are not using a slow cooker liner, always oil or butter the base and sides of the cooking pot to reduce sticking and ease cleaning.
14. If your slow cooker lid isn’t a perfect fit – as many aren’t – either increase the amount of liquid in the recipe or put a sheet of foil over the top of the cooking pot before securing the lid. This will allow less steam to escape. The downside of lining with foil is that you can no longer see through the lid!

Simple Pork Curry

Patak's Korma Spice Paste

Serves 4

Making a curry from scratch can be a labour of love, roasting and grinding whole spices, making and cooking off spice pastes and nursing the dish through the cooking process. This pork curry recipe is simple firstly because it uses shop-bought spice pastes and secondly, you cook it in a slow cooker. It’s packed full of flavour and the meat is as tender as you can imagine.

I use Patak’s spice pastes, simply because that is the brand that my local supermarket stocks but I’m sure other brands may work just as well. I find the mix of 2/3 Korma and 1/3 Madras is ideal.

Be careful not to add too much salt at the start. Shop-bought spice pastes are quite salty to start with. You can always add more salt later but you can’t take it away!

My slow cooker has three settings – low, medium and high. I find I get the best results if I start it off on medium for one hour and then turn the heat down to low for the rest of the cooking time. If you don’t have a medium setting, just cook it on low from the start.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.5kg pork neck (or shoulder), cubed (I get my butcher to do this for me)
3 onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
2 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 very generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 x 165g jar of Patak’s Korma Spice Paste
½ jar (approx. 80g) Patak’s Madras Spice Paste
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (I use Mutti pulped tomatoes)
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 100ml of boiling water
Salt to taste
Cayenne chilli powder (optional)

Heat the oil in a wide based pan then brown the pork in batches, using a slotted spoon to remove each batch to a bowl once it is browned. Once all the pork has been browned, add a little more oil to the pan if needs be then slowly soften and brown the onions, approx. 20 minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the ginger, cinnamon, chilli flakes and black pepper and stir fry for another minute, making sure the spices don’t catch.

Add all of the other ingredients except for the cayenne, return the pork to the pan and bring it all up to a gentle simmer.

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of that time you may find a lot of oil has risen to the surface (the amount will depend on how fatty your pork was). Skim off and discard the oil, then give everything a good stir. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning adding salt if needs be and adding cayenne pepper if you want to crank up the chilli heat.

If the sauce is too runny, turn the heat on your slow cooker up to high and continue to cook uncovered until it has reduced sufficiently. I find this generally takes about an hour. Once the sauce is the right consistency, put the lid back on the slow cooker, turn the heat down to low and leave it to continue cooking until you are ready to serve. I typically cook this dish for about 10 hours in all.

Vegetable Stock

Vegetable Stock lr

This recipe will give you a rich and naturally sweet vegetable stock that adds stacks of flavour to sauces, soups and casseroles. It is vegetarian and vegan.

You can cook this stock on the hob or in a slow cooker. I prefer to make it in a slow cooker. Vegetables tend to break down less in a slow cooker than when simmered on a hob, so using a slow cooker gives a clearer stock without compromising on flavour.

I use a 6.5 litre slow cooker. If you are using a different sized cooker, simply adjust the proportions of the recipe.

2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large celery sticks (with tops), roughly chopped
2 leeks, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 largish tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
A pinch of salt
A small pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 ½ litres water

Place all of the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

Once the cooking time is up, sieve the stock into a clean pan and discard the solids. Boil the stock rapidly until it is reduced to 750 ml. The stock can be used immediately or stored in the fridge or freezer until needed.