I first purchased our slow cooker as a way of making the juggle of getting dinner on the table quickly and easily during to most difficult hours of the day more manageable, especially once I returned to work. It has certainly helped with that, as well as sparking my interest in mastering this form of cooking and adapting recipes and family favourites for cooking in the slow cooker. I use it at least once a week and whatever I cook almost always stretches to another meal for the freezer. The one exception to this is the ribs, which I wrote about here, and which I made again last night served with steamed broccoli with sesame oil and oven baked potato wedges.
So in light of the fact that I don’t actually have a new recipe to share with you this week I thought I would talk about an unexpected bonus I’ve discovered for the slow cooker… making stock. The process is the same as if you were making it on the stove top, add bones (chicken or beef) to the pot along with vegetables (onions, carrot and celery at least), herbs, pepper corns and a little salt. Top with water so it’s covering the other ingredients and turn the slow cooker on. I do it on low overnight so it gets about ten hours.
There are a couple of things I’ve started doing recently that have made my stock so much more flavoursome than it used to be. Firstly I roast the bones, even if they are the bones left from a roast I still put the them back into a hot oven for 30-40 mins so they are nicely browned. Secondly I add a little water to the roasting tray and scrape off anything stuck to the bottom after the bones have been taken out. This liquid is then added to the pot with all the flavours from the tray. And lastly, thanks to Christine’s tip, I now collect my vegetable scraps over the week, storing them in an air tight container in the fridge to use instead of whole vegetables in the stock. I add the skins and tops of onions (I use a lot of onions over the week), carrot tops and peelings, celery leaves and the gnarly bits at the base of the stalk, parsley stems, broccoli stalks, pretty much anything except potato peelings. I end up with quite a large container full of scraps. By the time I’ve put all this in the pot it’a pretty full, but with lots of gaps so I still fit just over two litres of water.
The final step once the stock has cooked is to refrigerate until cold and then remove any fat that has solidified. In the pre-slow cooker days I would then return the stock to the pot and boil rapidly until it had reduced by half. I haven’t found this step necessary the last few times as the stock has so much flavour without having to intensify it further. The first time I made stock in the slow cooker I automatically did this step and the stock ended up very dark (like beef stock) and VERY strong. Once the stock has been skimmed I pour it into zip lock bags with 1 cup in each bag and freeze it.
And there you have it slow cooker stock, the easiest and best home made stock I’ve come across. A ready made base for soups, risottos and casseroles at almost no cost, with very little salt and nothing artificial.