According to some foodies, it is indispensable: the slow cooker. More and more people are discovering the benefits of slow cooking, but later find out that the device is not as handy as it seems. Is there a slow cooker alternative?
About slow cooking and slow cookers
The slow cooker is a quintessentially American invention. The first slow cookers made their appearance in the 1940s. More and more women were working outside the home and there was a need for a device that could be turned on in the morning and ready for a hot meal in the evening. So that became the slow cooker, also known as the Crock-pot in English-speaking countries.
The slow cooker is an electrical appliance and consists of an inner pot, usually made of earthenware, with a capacity of about 2 to 8 liters. The name of this device already gives a hint of what it’s ultimately intended to be. With a slow cooker you can stew food slowly and therefore at a low temperature. A slow cooker has two temperature settings, high and low, and depending on which setting you choose, preparing a meal can easily take 4 to 8 hours.
Slow cooking without a slow cooker?
The whole principle of ‘low & slow’ cooking of food is not new. In fact, for centuries people have used this cooking technique to cook food for a long time and at a low temperature.
From the Roman Römertopf to the cast iron stews by the wood fire and the North African tagine. All slow cooker alternatives. A slow cooker cannot do a new trick at all. The slow cooker has made slow cooking a lot more accessible.
Advantages of slow cooking (long cooking time, low temperature)
Slow cooking is timeless. We have known for centuries that cooking longer at lower temperatures has many advantages for our daily fare.
- No moisture, vitamins and flavor are lost during slow cooking.
- Hardly any fat is needed, which makes slow cooking healthier.
- The low temperature cooking makes even tough meat nice and tender.
- Cooking food takes place at lower temperatures, so less energy is needed.
Although ‘slow cooking’, as a cooking technique, offers many advantages, the slow cooker, ie the device itself, has quite a few disadvantages.
Disadvantages of the slow cooker (the device)
With the slow cooker, it is the intention that all ingredients are placed in the inner pot at the same time. If you are cooking for several people or several portions, a slow cooker will quickly need a capacity of four or five liters. That doesn’t exactly make it a compact kitchen appliance.
Since most slow cooker owners don’t use the appliance every day, it quickly becomes an obstacle that is relegated to a dark place in the back of a kitchen cupboard.
Even more disadvantages of the slow cooker:
- You can only make one dish at a time. All ingredients are cooked in the slow cooker at the same time. That is why most slow cooker recipes are mainly stews.
- Except for the low and high settings on the slow cooker, no temperature can be selected, so there is no control over the degree of cooking. If you spend too long in the slow cooker, there is always a risk of overcooking.
- When cooking in the slow cooker, some moisture is added, but a lot of juices are also released from the vegetables and meat. As a result, meals quickly become soggy.
- Cooking in a slow cooker takes a long time: on the highest setting you have to count on about 4 hours and on the low setting 8 hours.
More and more people see the added value of slow cooking, but at the same time wonder whether, given the disadvantages, there might be a slow cooker alternative or replacement for the crockpot.
The oven as an alternative to the slow cooker
You can use an oven as a slow cooker alternative. The temperature of a slow cooker is about 80 C on low and 90 ºC on high. At such low temperatures an oven will function a lot less well. If you use the oven as an alternative slow cooker, you will have to adjust the preparation a bit for many slow cooker recipes.
How to use an oven as a slow cooker substitute:
- Preheat the oven to about 160 C. Follow the slow cooker recipe, but use a baking dish with a lid instead of a crockpot or slow cooker.
- If the recipe calls for slow cooker setting, then divide the cooking time by 4. Eight hours on low then becomes 2 hours in the oven at 160 ºC. For high, divide the cooking time by 2. Six hours on the high then becomes 3 hours in the oven.
- Slow cooking in the oven is done at a higher temperature. To prevent the dish from overcooking, you will have to regularly check the core temperature. Use a meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the meat, not too close to any bone. If the desired temperature has not yet been reached, wait 15 minutes and then check again.
Disadvantages of slow cooking in the oven:
- There is a high risk of overcooking and overcooking, so regular checking of the core temperature is necessary.
- High energy consumption and therefore a (rather) expensive alternative to a slow cooker.
The alternative: slow cooking 2.0 with sous vide
Meat, fish or even vegetables are first vacuum packed. This can be done together with some seasonings such as herbs, butter or oil. The sous-vide stick is set to the desired core temperature. The vacuum-sealed dish can then float nicely in the water heated by the appliance. If you use sous-vide, then you hardly have to worry about your dish. That makes it a very good replacement for the slow cooker.
Advantages of sous vide compared to the slow cooker
When you’re looking for a slow cooker alternative, sous vide actually makes a lot of sense. It has a number of advantages compared to the slow cooker.
Better preserve flavors and juices
The vacuuming of the ingredients is the biggest difference between sous vide and the slow cooker. It is precisely this vacuum bag that ensures that the flavors and juices are well packaged and are also well preserved.
Better core temperature control
With a slow cooker you only have a choice of the high and low settings. Sous-vide gives you full control over the cooking temperature.
The core temperature of the ingredients will never exceed the temperature of the sous-vide bath. Meat will therefore never be overcooked. In fact, more time in the warm water bath will ensure a more tender end result.
More flexible to use
Although the slow cooker is of course available in different sizes, you often only have one in your possession. The slow cooker too full or too empty will result in cooking too quickly or an undercooked dish. Chicken in the slow cooker can actually be dangerous that way.
You will already have regular pans in all sizes in your cupboard. The sous-vide stick can be attached to any pan, as long as it has the right depth. Compared to the slow cooker, vacuum cooking with sous vide is therefore much more flexible.
In addition, the sous-vide stick is also more compact and therefore much easier to store.
Have you come across a great slow cooker recipe or do you want to discover the benefits of slow cooking, but don’t have a slow cooker and don’t plan to buy one? Or have you already relegated your slow cooker to the attic and are you now looking for a good slow cooker replacement?
Then take a look at sous-vide as an alternative to the slow cooker.