Select cultural dishes always make a comeback during the month of Ramadan. And, with lively suhoor mornings soon approaching, what better way to prepare filling meals for the entire family, than in slow cookers? These hands-free kitchen appliances tenderise even the toughest cuts of meat over hours, so you can dress the table with juicy stews, curries and soups in time. Leave your batches of samosa (a savoury South Asian pastry) and pakora (fritters) to the airfryers, and pick up a slow cooker for the main event. We spoke to a UAE-based professional chef about the benefits of slow cooking your meals, with a side of expert advice.
Is it worth investing in a slow cooker?
With a plethora of appliances in the market, you might want a compelling case for standalone slow cookers. Let's begin with how a slow cooker will save your value cuts from being too tough and chewy.
"You'd use a slow cooker when you want specific types of meat to be extra tender. It simmers food on low heat, so the temperature stays consistent throughout. The cooker slowly extracts juices from the meat and locks in moisture, to give you a 'fall apart' texture," said Chef Maryam Abdul-Razaq, a professional private chef in Dubai, who specialises in Afro-fusion and Asian cuisine and hosts supper clubs in the city, via the Splidu app.
The best way to go about tenderising a cut, says Chef Abdul-Razaq, is to marinate your ingredients overnight. Once 12 hours have passed, she sautees the meat in oil to add colour with aromatics, like chopped garlic and onions. "I like to sautee in the cooker to keep the flavours in, but you can do it over gas, too. Doing this before starting the slow cooking process really makes a huge difference in the taste," she explained.
Long cooking times, even up to eight hours, means you can come home to a brisket or stew that's simmering and ready for you. You can leave the cooker to do its job, since there's no risk of burning the food. However, some cookers are manual, without a timer function, so it's best to take extra precautions and prepare your meals when you're home.
What cannot be cooked in a slow cooker?
Chef Abdul-Razaq calls the slow cooker a moisture-adding gadget. To retain the crunch in your vegetables, she suggests tossing them in at the end of the cooking process. The same applies to stews with prawns and other tender meats, which don't need hours of slow cooking.
Another important tip is to avoid adding ingredients straight from the freezer. "If you don't defrost beforehand, the moisture from the ice will increase the water levels and create excess steam in the pot," our expert said, who added that the cooker doesn't need a lot of liquid, to begin with. Allow the existing steam inside to circulate for a few minutes, before lifting the lid.
According to our pro chef, there's little need for a probe thermometer, a handy tool used check the meat's doneness. Because the cut will have been cooking for hours in the cooker, you can expect it to be tender.
Do note that most instant pots or multi-cookers also come with a dedicated button for slow cooking. If you want to save countertop space, an all-in-one unit can slow cook just as well, though it can be pricier. Chef Abdul-Razaq uses a Nutricook Smart Pot, and has turned to it for delicious results for three years.
For more specific use, our expert suggests the slow cookers listed below for all kinds of cooks. You're also just in time for Amazon's Appliances Carnival, where select items are currently up to 40 per cent off. Try them out with Prime’s free one-day delivery.
1. Best Overall: Crock-Pot Lift and Serve Digital Slow Cooker, 4.7 Litre
- Has a digital timer that goes up to 20 hours
- Enough capacity for four to five people
- Dishwasher-safe stoneware pot and lid
- Hinged lid for a mess-free counter
- Three heat settings
- No delay function, say reviews
Slow cookers are often called Crockpots, because it's the same brand that rolled out the original appliance to households in 1970. Leave your expensive meat cuts to cook in a pot with over 50 years of history. The Lift and Serve cooker has enough capacity for a small family, at 4.7 litres. The programmable appliance allows you to use a digital timer that counts down cook times of up to 20 hours, for delicious overnight or all-day slow cooking. Switch between two heat settings, low and high; once your meal is done, opt for the keep warm function. The removable bowl and lid are dishwasher-safe, so you don’t have to spend ages cleaning up after your party! Reviewers say they leave the automatic cooker going when they're working from home, and have meals prepared on time for dinner. Home cooks who use it three times a week also add that it's easy to clean.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh23 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh33.
2. Best Budget: Kenwood Stainless Steel Slow Cooker, 6.5 Litres
- Value for money
- Simple controls with three settings
- Large 6.5-litre capacity cooks for eight people
- Oven-safe ceramic pot
- No timer or auto-shut off feature
- Low heat can be too hot
Affordable with a large capacity, the Kenwood 6.5-litre slow cooker is one of Chef Abdul-Razaq's best picks. "If you're trying to make simple meat dishes, try the Kendwood cooker. It only has one dial with three settings: low, high and warm. It gets straight to the point," she said. Slow-cook curries, sauces and stews in a ceramic pot that's big enough to feed a family of eight. The same stoneware can be transferred to the oven for browning, safe at a temperature of up to 180 degrees Celsius. The only dealbreaker is the missing timer and auto-shut off feature, which means you'll have to set a separate reminder to manually turn off the unit. Still, reviewers have cooked delicious chicken stew with vegetables, without relying on digital timers. They do note that the lowest heat setting can be hotter than expected, and this can be remedied with more water.
3. Best with Thermometer: Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget, 4.5 Litres
- Thermometer probe for precise results
- Digital timer with auto-keep warm function
- Offers manual cooking, too
- Safe, spill-resistant appliance
- Removable, dishwasher-safe stoneware crock and lid
- Display panel and design make it appear a little dated
This slow cooker has a host of features that make it a viable option. But its best part is how it cooks meat. There’s nothing worse than cooking meat for hours, and when it comes time to eat, the meat is still tough and chewy. Hamilton Beach’s slow cooker ensures the meat you cook is tender and flavourful. Its thermometer probe ensures precise results, and it has three easy-to-use modes for automatic cooking. If you'll be coming home late, use the program function to set a timer, after which the cooker switches to keep warm on its own. As an added bonus, the clip-tight sealed lid ensures you don’t have to contend with spills – you can just forget about your meal, and let the slow cooker do its job. Reviewers say they've made hearty hotpot meals and stews in the cooker, but add that it can be heavy.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a two-year limited warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh18 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh25.
4. Best for Individuals: Russell Hobbs Slow Cooker, 3.5 Litres
- Small capacity is ideal for batch cooking
- Two heat settings with keep warm function
- Prepares cakes, soups, stews, curries and rice dishes
- Easy to use
- No timer or auto-off function
If you’re usually pressed for time and end up ordering out, this Russell Hobbs Slow Cooker is the solution to batch cooking at home. It’s not a very large appliance, so it’s ideal for solo cooks or a couple at most. You can even remove the pot from the slow cooker and serve the food directly, cutting down on the number of dishes to wash. Like other manual units on this list, the cooker has two heat settings, with the addition of a keep warm function, and no timer. Reviews mention preparing tender meat dishes in stock, left to simmer on low heat for hours. They attest to the flavourful results, with curries, khichdi (South Asian rice and lentil dish) and casseroles fully infused with spices. Some have made moist chocolate fudge in the cooker, as well.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh18 and a two-year extended warranty for Dh25.
5. Best Multipurpose: Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Slow Cooker, 3.5 Litres
- Sear on gas and slow cook in the same pot
- Three heat settings
- Lightweight aluminium pot makes transferring food easier
- Cuts down on washing up after meals
- No timer or auto-off function
This slow cooker is different from the rest on our list because it allows you to sear meats and vegetables first – a game-changer in terms of flavour, as it creates a richer, fuller taste. The pot is also excellent for sauteeing your marinated ingredients over a gas stove, after which you can pop it right back into the cooker. While the pot is hob-safe, it's not engineered to survive the oven heat. Do note that the unit doesn't have a digital timer or an auto-off function. Home cooks in the reviews are ecstatic about fewer dishes to wash, since they saute everything in the same pot. With a bit of research on what cooks for how long, buyers say their experience has been great. The lightweight aluminium pot is far easier than stoneware to lift and clean, too.
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