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Techniques - Choosing and using Ingredients

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Choosing and using Ingredients

As with any cooking, good ingredients will produce good results, but this doesn’t necessarily mean choosing expensive ingredients. Slow cooking enables you to make the best possible food with whatever is available, whether it’s a collection of humble root vegetables, a cheap meat cut, or some fresh seafood. All it requires is time and care so it can be cooked to perfection.


Vegetables

As a rule, the harder, tougher vegetables respond best to slow cooking because it turns them deliciously sweet and tender. The more delicate vegetables should be added to the pot later so they don’t fall apart while cooking.


Gem squash

This small squash is sweeter than the rest of the pumpkin family, with orange flesh inside the tough green skin. Peel using a potato peeler and add to stews or curries.


Butternut squash

A common variety of winter squash with a smooth, dense flesh, which is sweet and nutty. It will keep for a few weeks in a cool place. Good with lentils or coconut milk-based dishes.


Pumpkin

These are usually more fibrous and watery than other squash. If sold in pieces, use within a few days as the flesh is more perishable once cut.


Acorn squash

A mild-flavored squash, slightly sweet, with firm, yellow-orange flesh. To prepare, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, then cut into quarters. Peel and cut to the size you require.


Turnip

The familiar top-shaped turnip is usually purple fading to white at the root. When small, the flavor is sweet and delicate.


Parsnip

The flavor of this creamy-beige root has hints of parsley and carrot, but with a slight sweetness and nuttiness. Use the scrubbed peel with other vegetable trimmings to make a winter vegetable stock.


Carrot

Use either finely diced and sautéed with celery and onion to form a flavor base, or sliced to add color and sweetness.


Beets

The firm, juicy flesh of a beet has an earthy, sweet flavor. It is best cooked with other red vegetables, or those that will absorb the seeping crimson juices.


Celery root

Celery root, or celeriac, has a thick, rough skin that conceals a crisp white flesh. It has a refreshing, slightly herbal flavor, combining the tastes of parsley and parsnip with celery.


Garlic

Sauté garlic briefly at the beginning of a dish to add a layer of flavor; never cook until browned or it will taste bitter.


Sweet potato

These have softer flesh than potatoes so will cook far quicker; add them to slow cooked dishes as a late addition. The taste is sweet, rather like squash.


Shallot

They look like miniature onions, but shallots have a sweet, flowery flavor that does not overwhelm, and forms a rich flavor base for numerous sauces.


Sweet red onion

The juicy crimson and white flesh is noticeably sweet, although pungent when raw. Slow cooking caramelizes the juices and mellows the flavor.


Brown onion

The workhorse of the kitchen, the pungent brown onion is used in numerous savory dishes, raw, fried, braised, stewed, boiled, or roasted.


Potato

Choose waxy potatoes if you want them to hold their shape, or floury ones if you want them to dissolve and thicken the sauce.


New potato

Firm, with waxy flesh, these often don’t need peeling and can be added to a dish whole. Use in summer casseroles.


Savoy cabbage

The attractively crinkled leaves are more loosely wrapped round the head than those of other cabbages and are more full-bodied in flavor.


Red cabbage

Offering beautiful, vibrant color, red cabbage is sweeter than white, but the leaves are tougher, so they take longer to cook.


Curly kale

Exceptionally nutritious, the leaves have a rich, meaty flavor and robust texture. Kale will hold together quite well when slow cooked, or it can be added at the end.


Celery

A kitchen staple, celery makes a great base for casseroles and stews, along with carrot and onion. Trim the base and pull away any stringy bits.


Fennel

With its sweet, warm licorice flavor and crisp texture, fennel makes a great vegetable for slow cooking. Either chop finely and sauté first with onion, or roughly chop and add to the pot. The flavor is subtler when cooked.


Poultry

The term “poultry” covers domesticated birds, including chicken, turkey, goose, guineafowl, and duck (farmed duck is classified as game). This most versatile of meats works with most flavors and cooking methods. Whole birds or portions with the bone left in are ideal for slow cooking.


Whole chicken leg

Comprises the thigh and drumstick. A leg joint is good for slow cooking as the meat remains tender and juicy. Perfect for classics such as Coq au vin.


Chicken thigh

Sold skin on or off, bone-in, or boneless. Best with bone in for slow cooking as it keeps the meat tender and the taste is superior. When deboned, they are excellent stuffed and rolled up. Thighs are better than breast for slow cooking.


Whole duck

It is better to joint these for slow cooking as they can be fatty. Ducks have a rich, dense meat that is best teamed with citrus fruits or spices that will cut through the fattiness of the meat.


Whole chicken

These are perfect for poaching in flavored liquid. The flesh becomes tender, moist, and silky and falls off the bone effortlessly. The bones can then be used for stock. Choose free range chicken, if you can, for ethical reasons and taste.


Duck leg

These have a superb flavor and rich dark meat. They take longer to cook than breast meat and have a little more sinew, but this makes them an incredibly tasty choice for slow cooking. Pierce or slash the layer of skin and fat before browning in a pan.


Pork

Almost all pork cuts are suitable for slow cooking, but the cheaper, fattier varieties are the best as they provide the tastiest sauce. They go well with acidic-flavored fruits, woody herbs, earthy vegetables, and lentils.


Pork leg

These are very lean so need careful cooking to prevent them from drying out. To cook as an escalope, leg steaks are beaten out very thinly.


Rolled leg joint

Cuts from the lower leg, where the muscles are tougher, are suited to slow cooking. Pork leg meat can be bought cut into bite-sized pieces.


Spare ribs

Trimmed ribs are sold as a rack or individually cut. Indivual ribs are easier to fit into a pot.


Belly slices

This is a fatty cut from the underside of the belly. Buy in whole pieces or slices. Slow cooking transforms it into tender meat. Goes well with Asian spices, hearty vegetables, or pulses.


Hock

The hock is the joint near the foot and is sometimes called pork knuckle. It is a cheap cut with lots of flavor that requires long and slow cooking.


Beef

There are many beef cuts suited to long slow cooking. These come from the forequarters and are less expensive than the leaner cuts. Choose beef that is a good, dark red color, which has preferably been hung for 21 days. Beef responds well to marinating, because it adds depth of flavor to the finished dish and will tenderize the meat.


Diced braising steak

Usually lean chuck, blade, or flank. Often sold ground. Braise, casserole, or stew.


Oxtail

The tail is sold in chunks. The bones enrich sauces with their marrow. Stew, braise, or use in soup.


Ground beef

Ground beef can be quite fatty but has good flavor. Ground shin needs the longest cooking. Ground steak from the back or leg is the leanest and most tender.


Beef shin

Cut from the foreleg, it needs careful trimming. Dice and use for stews and casseroles.


Brisket

Cut from the underside behind the front leg. Brisket needs long slow cooking because it has a lot of connective tissue, but has great flavor.


Lamb

As with all the best meats for slow cooking, the well-exercised parts of the animal make the choicest cuts. The high fat content in lamb meat makes it ideal for the slow cooker or Dutch oven; slow cooking renders the meat meltingly tender and adds lots of flavor. Team lamb with sweet vegetables such as peas or fresh herbs such as mint, because these flavors cut through the fatty richness.


Neck filet

Derived from the tender eye of the neck muscles, this cut of lamb is versatile and responds well to both high-heat quick cooking and long slow cooking. Cut into bite-sized pieces, or stuff it and cook it whole.


Ground lamb

This can be quite fatty and will add flavor and succulence to a dish. However, too much fat can make it greasy. Leg or shin will yield the leanest ground meat.


Shank

Slow, moist cooking is required to turn the sinews in the shank into a succulent jelly. Allow one shank per person. Foreleg shanks are slimmer than those from the back leg.


Half leg

This is a prime cut, but requires long slow cooking. It can be cooked bone in or bone out. It has more flavor when cooked with the bone in, as the meat becomes fork tender and falls away from the bone.


Fish

As a rule, fish is added toward the end of slow cooking because its delicate flesh needs only minimal time to cook. It adds a distinctive flavor to a slowly simmered sauce. Always choose sustainable fish.


Tuna

Rich and full of flavor, tuna is robust enough to add to a slow cooked dish. Choose steaks that are fairly thick and try searing them first for extra flavor.


Monkfish

With its dense texture, this is quite a “meaty” fish. It is a good choice for slow cooking as it won’t fall apart easily. Monkfish has mildly flavored, slightly chewy, white flesh.


Cod

This fish has white, chunky flakes with a delicate flavor. It needs very little cooking before the flesh is ready and turns opaque. If over-cooked, cod will disintegrate and become chewy.


Halibut

Noted for its dense, firm, and low-fat white filets, which have a mild taste. It is best served grilled or pan-fried with a flavored butter.


Salmon

The flesh is firm, moist, and oily with a rich flavor. Choose chunky pieces and cut to a uniform size to add to the pot. Delicious added to a fish soup or stew.


Swordfish

These meaty steaks have a similar texture to tuna and are ideal for using as a late addition to the pot.


Haddock

This has a delicate, creamy, sweet flavor, similar to cod, and can be used instead of cod in recipes. Its delicate flesh needs only minimal cooking; add to the pot for a short time once the sauce is cooked.


Seafood

As with fish, seafood needs to be added late because it requires very little cooking. Seafood adds much flavor, texture, and protein to a dish and can transform an everyday sauce into a memorable meal.


Octopus

Slow cooking turns the meat tender and moist; undercooked, it can be chewy. You can buy it prepared or frozen, but be sure to defrost it thoroughly before adding to the pot. It is particularly good with a tomato-based sauce.


Clams

These have a delicate, sweet flavor with a texture similar to mussels. They need very little cooking and will steam open in minutes when added to a simmering sauce. A hearty, full-flavored sauce makes a good accompaniment. Discard any clams that don’t open after cooking.


Mussels

They taste slightly salty, with an intense flavor of the sea. Add them to a dish late to prevent overcooking, which results in a rubbery texture. Once all the shells are open they are ready to eat.


Squid

This requires either “fast flash” cooking or slow cooking in a simmering sauce to become tender. Like octopus, it is good in a tomato sauce. It has a mellow flavor so can take punchy sauces.


Shrimp

Add shrimp at the end of cooking because they will become tough and chewy if overcooked. The cooking time is dependent on their size. The shells make a tasty stock.

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