The secret to making slow-cooked meals delicious

Try these tips to make an impressive coq au vin.
Try these tips to make an impressive coq au vin.  Photo: William Meppem

​I am a recent, disappointed convert to the use of a slow-cooker. Yes, the meat is tender, but the sauce is excessive and insipid. I am following recipes but am left nonplussed. C. Fenech

I remember being given a second-hand burnt-orange Monier Crock-Pot when I moved into a share house. I started cooking a stew in that 1980s-era slow-cooker to take away for a household camping weekend. I pitched the tent, only to remember the beef bourguignon on the benchtop several hundred kilometres away. We returned several days later to find a dark but delicious beef slurry, like a wet, meaty Vegemite. It was way too salty and taught me several things. One: Do not season slow-cooked dishes to taste until after the sauce has reduced. Two: Meals cooked in crock pots (and other slow-cookers) can have way too much liquid. Three: Crock-pots look even more burnt orange after a long weekend on low. With these lessons in mind, I always sear any meat and cook down the carrot, celery and onions in a heavy-based frying pan before adding to the cooker. Although some slow-cookers have a browning function, they do not have enough surface area to do the job properly. If you find your meat is tender enough but the sauce is too watery, turn off the cooker, pour off some the sauce into a wide saucepan and reduce the sauce until it has reached the desired consistency. You can thicken it with a little flour and water mixed together if necessary. Then stir it back into the stew, reheat and serve.

What is the best way of storing hard cheese in the fridge? G. Griffiths

Le Grande Fromage himself, Will Studd, says, "The best place to store cheese after purchase is in its original wax paper, or box, in the vegetable compartment of the fridge. Cool, damp conditions are ideal. But these are very difficult to replicate at home, which is why cheese should be bought as close as possible to when you want to use it." All hard cheeses, once cut from the wheel, will lose moisture and harden and oxidise. Wrapping in baking paper or beeswax wrap will slow this down. Wrapping cheeses tightly in plastic will stop moisture loss but at the sacrifice of quality through sweating. I love Stephanie Alexander's suggestion of creating a cheese box. This is a large plastic container, the lid of which has holes drilled through to allow some airflow. The base is lined with a cane sushi mat on which the paper-wrapped cheeses are placed. Once cheeses harden, they can be grated and used in sauces, souffles and salads. 


Recently we were discussing why some oven clocks run slow. C. Stubbs wrote in with this. "Your answer to the reader's question about the oven clock is unfortunately not accurate (like the clock itself) for two reasons. The mains frequency does vary slightly around 50Hz but averaged over any significant period of time is always very accurate (the electricity regulator ensures that)."

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