The crock-pot is probably the most underutilized kitchen gadget for busy athletes. Sometimes a 15-minute meal is too much effort after a long day of work that either started too early on the track or ended too late on the bike. Then if that wasn’t enough, many of you have kids coming and going at different times because of after school activities. Crock-pot cooking makes everyone’s life easier and makes sure that a hot meal is ready at the end of the day.
Crock-pot cooking is very simple as long as you adhere to a few guidelines. By following these tips you can have a healthy dinner ready when you get home while avoiding mushy vegetables and dry meat.
Choose the right piece of meat.
Chicken: Chicken thighs and drumsticks are less likely to dry out than white pieces of meat like the breast. Pieces with bones take longer to cook than boneless pieces. Don’t use a whole chicken as the meat cooks from all sides and the chicken will be in the temperature danger zone too long.
Beef: Stay away from lean pieces like sirloin and filet. Do use shanks, shoulders, round and rump.
Pork: Much like beef, stick with pieces of meat like the shank, pork butt, and shoulders. Stay away from lean pieces like tenderloin, as it will dry out.
Choose vegetables appropriately.
Vegetables: Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, parsnips and fall squashes can withstand long periods of time cooking. Summer vegetables are tender so make sure you cut in larger pieces and shorten the cooking time.
Greens: Greens like collard, turnip and mustard are ideal because they get better the longer you cook them. Spinach and Swiss chard are better to use towards the end of cooking. Especially if using in soups.
Add Dairy at the end.
Dairy products like sour cream and yogurt can easily curdle, so make sure you stir them in during the final 15 minutes of cooking.
Pay attention to the heat level.
The general rule of thumb is that setting the crock-pot on low (170°F) will take twice as long as setting it on high (280°F). Use the appropriate cuts of meats and vegetables.
Layering is important.
Place hearty/firm vegetables like potatoes and squashes on the bottom of the crock and then start piling on meats and legumes.
Fresh is best at the end.
In the final minutes of cooking or right after plating, add fresh herbs, grated Parmesan or the zest and juice of a lemon. This will brighten even the most heavy of crock-pot meals.
Browning is a flavor enhancer.
Just as you would cook the ground beef before making a Bolognese sauce or searing a pot roast before putting in the oven, browning the meats before putting in the crock-pot will enhance the flavors of the dish.