Whether you do your slow cooking in a slow cooker, or make the most of your oven and hob, there can be no dispute that at the moment we all want to end the day with something comforting and savoury cooked low n slow. Tender meat, possibly some rich gravy, with vitality-boosting veggies and perhaps some filling carbs; that’s what we crave in the colder months. Add to that request that the food virtually cooks itself and makes the house smell utterly awesome, and you have pretty much cracked it.
But which cuts of meat best suit slow cooking? And do they all suit the slow cooker? Let’s find out.
Chicken fillets actually hold up pretty well when it comes to slow cooking. You can brown them first in a frying pan if you wish, and then put them into the slow cooker or a shallow braising dish. You don’t even need to brown them first; it all depends on the recipe. In the slow cooker, they are best on high for four hours but can take the lower longer setting if needs must. In the oven, with a little liquid and a tight covering of tin foil, they can sit gently cooking and taking on all of those lovely flavours. Cooked whole in this way they remain succulent and full of flavour.
Our diced beef, cut from lean and tender Scotch beef, will cook slowly down to a mouth-wateringly melting stew. You can toss it in flour and brown in a frying pan first, or skip the browning and thicken later. Ideal for the slow cooker, diced beef will also cook beautifully on the hob or in the oven. Go classic with beef in red wine or stew and dumplings or spice things up with a proper Mexican chilli. You could even make a pie filling and finish with bought puff pastry.
Steak mince is best browned before it goes in the slow cooker, but it is not always necessary. If you usually use mince to make a quick spaghetti Bolognese then you may be surprised by how much it benefits from slow gentle cooking. Suitable for cooking on the hob, or in the slow cooker, you can make all of your old favourites low n slow style. On the hob, a meat ragu such as Bolognese sauce should reduce down for hours to reach perfection; in the slow cooker reduce the amount of liquid and thicken at the end if needed. The base for a shepherds pie, which needs no thickening, is excellent when cooked in the slow cooker.
The perfect pot roast joint, silverside is equally good braised in the oven or in the slow cooker. Slow cook a whole piece for tender pull-apart beef. Add plenty of liquid and lots of root veg for a classic pot roast, or add a spice rub, keep the liquid minimal and pile into soft bread buns. Toss the leftovers into an impromptu has or bubble and squeak for supper the next day.
Rolled Pork Shoulder
If you want to jump on the still strong trend for pulled pork, then this is the meat that you need. Soft dark meat, with plenty of fat for moisture, pork shoulder will just fall apart in your fingertips. Give the joint a sticky spice rub, or simply add an inch of water, a whole onion, and a bay leaf. Cook in the slow cooker on low for 8 hrs, or in a low oven, in a tightly foiled roasting pan, for 4 hours.
Smoked Ham Hock
An ideal cut for slow cooking, smoked ham hocks are a cost-effective way to bring on some classic comfort food. Slow cook as they are, in the slow cooker or a low oven, and eat in sandwiches with piccalilli or add to pasta sauces. Or make a warming proper pea and ham soup.
Pork fillet is another of those lean cuts that you wouldn’t immediately think of for slow cooking. But, with slow cooking and the right amount of moisture, these leaner cuts are just as good for low n slow as the sinewy fatty ones. Best left whole, but could be cut into medallions, you can pop it into the slow cooker or tightly foiled in a low oven. Go for appley autumn flavours, choose fresh herbs and the brightness of lemon, or comfort heaven with cream and mushrooms.
Lamb is a softer, moister meat than beef, and this diced lamb is perfect for slow-cooked stews. Suited to the hob, oven or slow cooker, try a classic Lancashire hotpot, or a tomato-based Greek stew with butter beans and topped with feta cheese.
The softness of lamb translates well when minced, and minced lamb is perfect slow-cooked for an authentic Moussaka or the base for a shepherds pie. Middle Eastern flavours work really well with lamb, especially when minced, so try making Moroccan inspired meatballs to serve over couscous or Bulghur wheat.
Rolled Lamb Shoulder
The ovine alternative to pulled pork, slow-cooked lamb shoulder makes for glorious soft shredded meat. Suitable for the oven or the slow cooker, throw in a few sprigs of rosemary and a handful of garlic cloves, or go Middle East with cumin, coriander and lemon. Lamb shoulder makes excellent Greek kleftiko, traditionally slow-baked in a pit, or an easy alternative to Sunday lunch to serve with simple veg, roasties and a splash of gravy.
We hope these ideas inspire you to get some cold weather cooking done. Have we missed something out, or is there something else you would like to see here?