Tag Archives: stock

Pressure/Slow cooker

Earlier this year, just as we were emerging from the shuck of winter and blinking in the spring sunshine, with thoughts turning to light, easy lunches involving salads and grilled things, I decided to I needed to buy a slow cooker to cook stews in.

A slow cooker is actually a very good idea for someone like me, because I am a natural early riser and I am at my best, my most industrious, early in the morning. It’s all down hill from there. I am often too tired of an evening to cook, or think about cooking. In Italy, at least in my family, it is customary to largely prepare the main meal of the day (whether that be taken at mezzogiorno or a cena) in the morning. This is when people visit and the cook can chat, catch up with the latest gossip and prep a substantial meal. I would watch many such occasions as a child and marvel at how organised and easy it seemed.

(I would also marvel at just how much bitching would go on.)

But, I never managed this level of organisation and I thought the slow cooker would help. As these things go, I started looking at entry level slow cookers and before I knew what I was doing, I had ordered a top of the range slow cooker and pressure cooker combined – a huge hulk of a stainless steel beast, the Fast Slow Pro by Heston for Sage (before anyone thinks I am on a salary from them, I am not, this is literally only one of two Sage appliances I own, the other one being an insanely priced waffle maker which is brilliant but I don’t recommend anyone buy because no-one can like waffles that much.)

It is an electric model, so you can use it anywhere there is a plug (no need for a stove top).

Of course, the purchase of lots of books on slow cooking and pressure cooking followed and I realised that most people were either evangelical about one type of cooking, or another. But you can be a fan of both and this lets you be.

Slow cooking, in case you don’t know, is just like cooking something on a stove top or in an oven at a very low temperature for a very long time. The difference is, because the slow cooker is sealed, no moisture gets out so things stay very moist. I have done the best ‘roast’ chicken in this ever, you then reduce down the gravy, in the same slow cooker pot, using the reduce function which is the equivalent of a pan on the hob simmering away.

Moist is not a bad word.

Pressure cooking cooks things under, er, very high pressure so it cooks things very very fast. It is particularly good for cooking dried pulses etc.

The beauty with either is that you just put it in the pot, turn the lid and leave it. I can’t comment on other appliances but mine is all digital and you set a timer and it does it all for you.

I mostly use mine for making stock and bolognese, which is brilliant cos I chuck everything in and do it on a slow cooker 12 hour timer overnight. I use the pressure cooker for things like ribs (does them in an hour * they are literally falling off the bone when they come out which may not be to everyone’s liking) and pulses.  But you can cook loads and loads of things in it, I am only just starting.

*The pressure cooker takes time to come up to pressure and also to release the pressure so if it says it does it in an hour remember to factor in these things.

It’s also brilliant at reducing (you leave the lid up) as you can reduce, say, a stock on a timer and leave it whilst you do other stuff. Obvs you can do this with an ordinary sauce pan, on the hob, but you don’t have to worry about going back and switching it off.

It has a ‘keep warm’ function so once it has finished its main cooking, it will keep things warm for two hours. Great if you are a bit nebulous about a coming home time.

In short this is a brilliant bit of kit – huge so think about where you’re going to put it – and I’ve had it for several months now and I really rate it.

Post script, summer 2017. I have had this for about 18 months now and it is easily one of the best bits of kitchen kit I’ve ever bought. I use it loads and it is a marvel. Buy it.

Poor man’s roast chicken

This recipe was one of those happy mistakes. Except I don’t, now, remember what I was trying to do that I erred at.

The reason it’s called poor man’s roast chicken originally came about because this isn’t a whole chicken dish, but one made of pieces and I thought that looked like a poor man’s version of a roast chicken dinner. But given that, these days you can often buy fairly cheap whole chickens, even in posh stores like Waitrose, and chicken pieces aren’t as cheap anymore, I’m not sure that still holds true.

However, it also conveniently covers up a slight, controlled fear I have of cooking whole roast chickens. Even though they were one of the first things I learned how to cook, as a child. When my mum was at work, I’d quite often start the dinner off and it was usually either roast chicken or bolognese. I’m also a bit scared of roast chicken because I never really know when it’s done (my mum was always home for that bit). If you overcook it it’s awful and like eating the contents of your shredder, undercook it and everyone dies. Plus I really HATE carving up a cooked chicken or jointing up a raw one.

So I always buy chicken pieces if I can, even though my partner always, always says “but you can buy a whole chicken, it’s better value and I’ll joint it for you”. This is a nice gesture, isn’t it? Utterly lovely. But it makes me feel wretched because I feel at once dependent and useless. Which is a hideously bad combination for me, like smocks and dirndl skirts. So when he is away, I rebel and BUY CHICKEN PIECES.

Thighs are best for this recipe because they are the tastiest meat I think. They are also not mentally expensive. But whatever you use, you do need chicken pieces with bones in. Leave those breasts for something else.

This is what you do. There are no exact measurements, sorry. Today I used six thighs and this is what I did.

Get a roasting tray with sides. The idea is to have just enough room for the meat, so not too big, otherwise you need to use a bucket load of stock. Now, put the meat in and then some lengths of carrot and celery. Over the top, pour about half a litre of stock made using a stock cube. Stock cubes scare me (there does seem a high level of fear in this post doesn’t there?), so I always, always buy organic ones, even though we’ll probably discover, in time, that they contain MDF dust. You want enough stock so that it comes about half way up the chicken pieces, no more. The idea, you see, is to keep the chicken moist. As it cooks, the stock renders down, and the whole thing goes really wonderfully concentrated.

Put it in the oven, uncovered at 200C on FAN. You want the stock to evaporate. The other beauty of this dish is that you really don’t have to be madly accurate about timings and I never am. I probably cook it for about 60 minutes, maybe even longer (don’t tell Heston). You will need to turn the chicken pieces regularly, so set a timer, and each time you do, baste the chicken. Ideally, you cook this until the stock has rendered down to a slick at the bottom of the tray – see pic above – but you may need to use your common sense here. If the chicken is starting to desiccate, you know, stop before this. But this is why you don’t want to put too much stock in.

Now, if you’re serving this up as roast chicken, serve up a piece per person or whatever. If you’re going to use the chicken for sandwiches or wraps, then take the meat off the bone, and throw the discarded bones, skin etc in a pan with whatever’s left in the roasting tin: carrot, celery, the almost not there anymore stock juice. Add about 500ml of water and simmer for about two hours. To give it even more oomph, I put in half a stock cube.

Even if you serve it up as roast chicken, when people have finished eating put all the detritus in a pan to make stock as above. And the stock you get from this is glorious stuff. However, if you serve this up as a roast chicken dish, back up a bit. When you take the chicken out of the roasting tin and you leave behind the cooking juices/carrot/celery, put the roasting tin on the hob, add a bit of water to loosen if up only if you need it, but then swirl everything around, mashing the carrot and celery up as you go. When it’s all bubbly, take off the heat and put through a sieve and serve this as gravy. It’s delicious (put through a fat separator jug if you want, so you take off the fat).

Chicken done like this is so easy and really, really tasty. It probably has posh, kennel name. I don’t know what it is.