The slow cooker (or Crockpot, for you old-timers) is a popular kitchen gadget and for good reason. You can start dinner before you leave for work in the morning and have it ready when you come home, or you can cook overnight. You sleep; the slow cooker does the heavylifting. Sounds great, doesn’t it?!
There are many recipes developed just for the slow cooker, but sometimes we want to use the gadget with a low FODMAP recipe of our own devising. This article presents our best pointers for how to use your slow cooker so that you get the most of out of it.
Size Counts: Slow cookers come in many sizes and the right one for you will depend on the size of your family and your cooking style. It is important to have the right size (for you) because the machine will work its best if not over-filled nor under-filled. Generally speaking, your low FODMAP recipes should fill the unit about three-quarters of the way. This ratio of low FODMAP food to cooker will retain heat and liquid the best, circulate heat most evenly and minimize any burning or over-evaporation.
So, if you are a household of one and cook small amounts, get a smaller unit, which in slow cooker language means about a 2-quart (2 L) size. If you have a mid-size family, look for sizes between around 4 to 6-quarts (3.8 L to 5.7 L). For larger families, or if you like to cook in large batches, buy one in the 8-quart (7.5 L) range.
Safety: You will be leaving the slow cooker going for hours, possibly while you are out of the house or while you are sleeping. They are safe to use, as long as you follow manufacturer’s instructions and the unit is in good shape (no cracks, has a tight fitting lid, etc.). The electrical cords tend to be short, which means that you should clear space right near your outlet.
Always make sure there is plenty of airspace all-around the slow cooker for proper airflow; do not situate against the outlet wall.
Set Your Time & Temp: Let’s say you want to make a pot roast and are starting with 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of meat. At what temperature do you set the machine and for how long?
Your best bet is to refer to a similar yet tried-and-true low FODMAP slow cooker recipe and follow those recommendations. One myth is that you can just cook things in a slow cooker on high, forever and still end up with something wonderful. Just as with any other cooking technique, time and temp count.
Choose Your Protein: The slow cooker cooks things slowly for long periods of time (did we have to point that out?) and as such high fat proteins, like a fatty cut of meat, will have the proper amount of time for the connective tissues to break down, becoming incredibly moist, fall-apart tender and comfort-food worthy. (Check out our Short Ribs). Go for fattier choices, when possible. An exception is poultry skin. Remove it. It just gets flabby in the slow cooker - and no one likes flabby.
First Steps: And speaking of those hunks of protein, while it is tempting to want to throw everything in the slow cooker at once from the get-go, we have an alternative suggestion. Your dish will be so much better in the end if you take 5 to 10 minutes at the very beginning to sear your meats on top of the stove. Whether it is just a slight crusty sear or a hefty one, it will add tons of flavor, texture and color.
Some of our low FODMAP infused cooking oils in the bottom of a pan, some of our low FODMAP seasonings used as a dry rub on your meat and a couple of minutes over medium-high heat will do the job. And if you are shopping for a slow cooker, look for one with an insert that is stove-safe. It’s nice not to have to clean an additional pot.
Keep a Lid on It: You might be tempted to lift the lid and peek during the long cooking time, but try to refrain. If you do remove the lid during cooking a lot of moisture will be released that we want to keep in the dish. The exception to this rule is if a recipe calls for adding something part way through cooking time. If you do have to lift the lid, get in and out quickly. Some guides suggest that every time you lift the lid you might need to add about 15 minutes of cooking time.
Adding Ingredients Part Way Through: One time we will lift the lid is to add vegetables part way through cooking. Carrots or greens added to the pot in the beginning when you are making that pot roast will often end up mushy. Added halfway through they will cook through, add their distinctive, earthy flavor and keep some toothsome texture and color.
A Note on Wine & Beer: Both wine and beer are low FODMAP in specific servings sizes and can be used in your recipes. The issue here is that since the slow cooker by its very nature never brings ingredients to a vigorous boil or simmer for any extended period of time, these alcoholic liquids tend to retain their alcohol content and as such lend a harsh flavor to slow cooker dishes. Try using just a splash for flavoring, but not large amounts. Look to water, low FODMAP tomato sauces and low FODMAP stocks for better liquids.
Finishing Touches: Many slow cooker dishes can end up with a home-style, stew-like texture and look. Sometimes that’s just fine, but other times we want a little burst of freshness. We highly recommend that you add dairy and fresh herbs at the very end of cooking time or even right before serving.
Dairy will curdle if heated too long and this is the way to solve that problem. Adding splashes of acid at the end of cooking works wonders, too, like a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. These finishing touches can truly make a dish. Oh, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs upon serving is a favorite trick, too.
Cleaning Tip: We think most well designed slow cookers are pretty easy to clean, but you can also buy “liners”. These are heat-safe nylon and line the inside of the cooker. You cook inside them and they make clean up extra-easy. Read labels. Most are BPA-free, but not recyclable. We don’t think you need them, but we wanted to acknowledge that they exist and from time to time you might find them handy.