It only takes a single Google search to find 1,000,001 slow-cooker recipes online. If you’re anything like me, you romanticize the idea of all these one pot wonders that cook while you’re busy doing all the important things in life! Before you know it, you’re at your local grocery store buying $20 worth of chicken breasts, only to run home, throw everything in the Crock Pot, wait in anticipation for six hours, and voila!….dried out, stringy chicken that no sauce will fix and even the dog won’t eat! It’s maddening!
Now, before you contact Atlanta Eats and ask why they let me write a food blog each week (but have difficulty with a slow cooker) you should know that I graduated with honors from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. I can fabricate a chicken in my sleep, shuck a dozen oysters in minutes flat, put a perfect sear on a scallop, and, I make a really mean Hollandaise sauce. But, until lately, slow cooker meals were not my forte! With school starting back this month and a little less time on my hands, I decided it was finally time to master the art of slow cooking and did so after learning these top tips and techniques for slow cooker success:
- Trust your instincts when it comes to cooking times. New slow cookers (like mine) have a tendency to cook at higher temperatures than older models. If you’re using a new model, check for doneness at the lower end of the time range (about 45 minutes before the recipe says it’s supposed to be done). This is especially key when cooking chicken breasts (be leery of recipes that call for 6 to 8 hours of cooking time!).
- Don’t PEEK! It takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the slow cooker to regain lost heat and return to the right temperature.
- Whole or leaf herbs gain flavor in the slow cooker. Ground seasonings lose flavor. Add ground seasoning during the last hour and season to taste right before serving.
- Don’t put milk, cream, or sour cream in at the beginning of cooking, as each will separate with long heat.
- If you want to brown your meat and sauté your vegetables, it will result in an added layer of deep, caramelized flavor. If you want a thicker sauce, simply dredge the meat in flour before browning.
- Fresh vegetables cook a little more slowly than meat. If you’re not pre-cooking your vegetables, place the vegetables under the meat in the slow cooker.
Not only did I learn these fantastic tips while trying to master the art of slow cooking, I also found a delicious and foolproof recipe for Crock Pot Honey Sesame Chicken. It has all the flavor of your favorite Chinese takeout meal and requires only a few minutes of prep time. This has become my family’s favorite slow cooker meal and I’m certain that your family will love it too – enjoy!
Crock Pot Honey Sesame Chicken
Makes 6-8 Servings
2 ½ pounds bones, skinless chicken breasts (thighs would be fine too)
Salt and pepper
1 cup honey
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons diced onion
4 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 6 tablespoons water
Chopped scallions (optional)
Spray slow cooker with cooking spray
Season both sides of chicken lightly with salt and pepper, and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
In a small bowl, add honey, soy sauce, onion, ketchup, oil, garlic and pepper flakes and stir until well combined. Pour over chicken.
Cook on low for 3-4 hours, or just until chicken is cooked through. (Check the doneness of the chicken after 2 hours and 15 minutes of cooking time).
Remove chicken from crock pot, leave sauce. Dissolve 4 teaspoons of cornstarch in 6 tablespoons of water and pour into crock pot. Stir to combine with sauce.
Remove lid and cook sauce on high for ten more minutes or until slightly thickened.
Cut chicken into bite size pieces, then return to pot and toss with sauce before serving.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped scallions (if desired) and serve over rice or noodles.
Recipe adapted from www.babycenter.com