Nine slow-cooker hacks from dumplings to chocolate cake

You can use your slow-cooker to melt chocolate, and even make this espresso martini chocolate cake (recipe below).
You can use your slow-cooker to melt chocolate, and even make this espresso martini chocolate cake (recipe below). Photo: Katrina Meynink

Your slow cooker can be put to work for more than just wintry stews and casseroles.

1. Perfectly melt chocolate and prevent burning

Slow Victories by Katrina Meynink.
Slow Victories by Katrina Meynink. Photo: Hardie Grant Books

Add the chocolate to jars, place them in the slow cooker, then pour in enough water to come three-quarters of the way up the jars. Cook on low for 1 hour.

2. Swap out stock

Try beer or even coffee for a stronger, heartier flavour in less time.

3. It's great for poaching

There's no danger of boiling water in your slow cooker, so it makes an ideal environment for gentle poaching. Think of it as a pseudo sous-vide machine.

4. Use it as a smoker While you are never going to achieve the same authentic smoky flavour as you would using a proper smoker or barbecue, you can introduce a smoky flavour to your cooking by incorporating wood chips at the base of your cooker as part of the braising process.

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Soak 1–2 cups wood chips (I like hickory) in water for 30 minutes, then drain. Place the chips on a sheet of baking paper, gathering up the edges to enclose the chips and make a packet that will sit in the base of the cooker. Make a few small incisions in the bag with a sharp knife or pair of scissors to allow the steam to escape. Place the bag in the base of the cooker and put your protein, or whatever you are cooking, directly on top. Pour 250ml (1 cup) liquid into the base of the cooker to create a little steam, but not enough to swamp the wood chips.

5. Eggs for binding

Eggs will always help to bind a sauce and are best suited to white, creamy sauces. Mix an egg with some flour to create a roux before adding liquid to create a sauce, or simply whisk in an egg yolk to help bind and thicken sauces or soups.

6. Use it for proving

Fill your slow cooker halfway with water and set to the low setting. Put the lid on upside down, lay a tea towel on top, then set your bowl of dough in the lid. The radiant heat from the hot water below will help the dough to rise.

7. Brining

Brine leaner cuts of meat before cooking to stop them drying out during the low, slow cook. For a very basic brine, add 80 grams of salt to 1 litre of water and stir to dissolve. You can also add aromatics. Brine the meat in the fridge overnight.

8. Get steaming

Add a steaming basket and some water to the base of the bowl and use to steam dumplings. Or simply place a bunch of herbs and greens directly into the steamer basket and place a piece of fish on top of that. The fish steams in the moisture from the herbs below – no liquid required.

9. Use it as a large steamer

Build a platform (most slow cookers come with a stand or platform insert that can be used for this) in the slow cooker's bowl, place the food on top, then fill with water until just under the top of the platform.

This is an edited extract from Slow Victories by Katrina Meynink, published by Hardie Grant Books $35.00. It is available from March 3 where all good books are sold. Pre-order now.