Slow cookers (also known as crock pots) are popular again. And no wonder—who wouldn’t want to start dinner cooking before breakfast and come home to a fully made meal?
These cookers take advantage of the flavor-generating effect of braising, while relieving you from having to spend your time around the stove checking the cooking progress of your meal every couple of hours. (Braising requires first sautéing meat and/or vegetables in a bit of oil until they obtain a nice brown color and then slowly cooking them in a small amount of liquid). Round and squat with a tight-fitting lid, the cookers do take up a bit of counter space, but you can leave them fired up all day without worrying about your kitchen catching fire.
“Since it’s a labor saver it can encourage people to cook more at home,” says Karen Lau, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., registered dietitian at Joslin Diabetes Center, which means fewer fat- and calorie-laden meals out.
Most slow cookers these days have timers that allow you to set the cooker for the precise time of the recipe. In addition, if you are not available when the timer rings, newer models have a warmer function that keeps food in a safe temperature range until you are ready to serve the meal. In addition, they have a capacity of anywhere from 3 to 8 quarts, enough to cook dinner for a brood and have some left over.
All kinds of meats can be used, but generally tougher meats that benefit from long cooking times are better choices. Think chicken thighs and rump roasts. These cuts of meat are generally less expensive in the supermarket, making slow cooking a very economical choice. Sometimes these meats have a higher fat content, so be sure to trim all the fat from the pieces before putting them in the pan. Once the cooking is done you can let the meal chill in your refrigerator so the fat will come to the top. Just skim it off with a spoon and rewarm!
Slow cookers are a fantastic way to get a few more vegetables in. Most soups and stews are improved both nutritionally and taste-wise by the addition of greens, the more the merrier. Almost any type of vegetables can be used in a slow cooker. In fact, if eating animal products is not your thing, you can skip the meat altogether and make a vegetarian chili or vegetarian stuffed pepper in one of these cookers.
Unlike buying a rotisserie grill or a convection oven, these kitchen aids won’t set you back a fortune. Of course, like every other appliance, different models have different features. The more features, the greater the cost, but a quick check on the internet shows that most are under a $100.00.
To learn how to make an appointment with a Joslin Dietitian, visit the Joslin Nutrition Programs website.