Slow Cooker Tips for Cooking Wild Game and Anything Else
There was a recent article in CNet: 5 Common Slow Cooker Mistakes. But they left out the two most important.
So what did CNet say, who is CNet and why is CNet, talking about cooking for Pete’s sake?
CNet, short for ‘Computer Network,’ mainly writes about and reviews electronic devices. I get a daily short version of it to keep up with viruses, but when I’m looking to buy some new app or cell phone, I check out their reviews.
I’m guessing this slow cooker article came because of the new slow cooker devices that have lots more bells and whistles than the ones most of us own. For my part, I do own an Instant Pot which does qualify for CNet’s attention, but my 5 slow cookers are definitely pre-historic, acquired at rummage sales.
I donated the oldest and least pretty one to John for various handloading tasks (including re-melting the wax from the Test Tube, a bullet testing medium which was great but didn’t last long); then I have an ancient orange one, an avocado one, and a special occasion one shaped like a basketball, though mostly we fire it up for the Super Bowl.
My newest is an oblong, camo slow cooker my baby brother gave me for Christmas one year. That one is perfect for cooking down turkey legs for soups and enchiladas, the clean-out-the freezer, multi-meat Traditional Burgoo, and our New Year’s Day Open House Hoppin’ John. Turkey legs won’t fit my round 4-quart pots, and the Hoppin’ John draws a crowd.
Not a locking lid or multi-function touch screen amongst them.
Oddly, the CNet list of mistakes fit those antiques as well as the Flash Gordon models.
- Don’t add excess liquid—you just dilute the flavor.
- Don’t add dairy products until the end. They might curdle.
- Don’t peak.
- Don’t fill the slow cooker to the top.
- Don’t add dried and fresh herbs until the end. They’ll lose potency.
Of course #3 doesn’t fit those newer locking lid models, a good improvement. And #4? Probably why Instant Pots have that line inside with FULL in caps. Number 1 is tempting to do, just so you can squeeze more meals out of one cooking episode, but slow cookers seem to create more liquid all by themselves.
But here are the two things CNet didn’t list:
- If your slow cooker is older than Paris Hilton, start it on HIGH. Then wait until the contents start boiling, gently, and turn it down to low. It helps to turn the slow cooker on high and add the broth and other liquids (except dairy) before you even start browning the meat. It’s like pre-heating the oven. It gives the cooker a head start.
Why? Most older cookers take too long on low to get the contents up to a safe temperature. Especially if you toss in still-frozen veggies or fridge-cold ones and, most important, don’t brown the meat. (See #2.)
- Browning the meat first adds a lot of flavor to a dish. It’s the Maillard Effect. Browning adds depth and sweetness to meats, onions, peppers—both sweet and spicy—and lots of other foods. That’s true with both commercially raised and wild meat. Medium to medium-high heat, with a bit of oil in the skillet, and the meat browned on the outside, but not completely cooked through-and-through is best. Then, to collect all the sweetness you just created, transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker, and scoop ¼ to ½ cup of that warmed up broth into the hot skillet. Rub up the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan and add all that to the slow cooker. That’s called ‘deglazing the pan.’ (And of course this is assuming you did not burn the meat and that those really are tasty bits not charred bits.)
Now, having said that there are times when I don’t recommend browning the meat. My own personal rule is ‘If it’s red brown it, if it’s pale think about it.’ There are times I don’t brown wild upland birds. They don’t have any fat to speak of, not like commercial chickens, so there’s nothing to moisten or baste the meat itself as it cooks. (Fat melts and keeps commercial meats moistened while cooking.) But if I don’t brown the meat, I’ll take more time with the onions or other veggies, so they add the richness and depth of flavor to the dish before adding them to the slow cooker. And I’ll leave the meat out on the counter for 10-20 minutes to make sure its not very cold before adding it.
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