A slow cooker, also known as a crock-pot (after a trademark owned by Sunbeam Products. Sometimes used generically in Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States), is a countertop electrical cooking appliance used to simmer at a lower temperature than other cooking methods, such as baking, boiling, and frying. This facilitates unattended cooking for many hours of dishes that would otherwise be boiled: pot roast, soups, stews and other dishes (including beverages, desserts and dips). A wide variety of dishes can be prepared in slow cookers, including ones typically made quickly, such as cocoa and bread.
Cheaper cuts of meat with connective tissue and lean muscle fibers are suitable for stewing, and produce tastier stews than those using expensive cuts, as long slow cooking softens connective tissue without toughening the muscle. Slow cooking leaves gelatinized tissue in the meat, so that it may be advantageous to start with a richer liquid.
The low temperature of slow-cooking makes it almost impossible to burn; even food that has been cooked too long. However, some meats and most vegetables become nearly tasteless or “raggy” if over-cooked.
Food can be set to slow-cook before leaving for the day so it is ready on return. Many homeowners with rooftop solar panels switch to slow cooking because it draws under 1 kW of power and can therefore be powered entirely by 1-2 kW panels during the day. Some models include timers or thermostats that bring food to a given temperature and then lower it. With a timerless cooker it is possible to use an external timer to stop cooking after a set time, or both to start and stop.
Cooking the meal in a single pot reduces water waste resulting from cleaning multiple dishes, and the low cooking temperature and glazed pot make cleaning easier than conventional high-heat pots.
Some vitamins and other trace nutrients are lost, particularly from vegetables, partially by enzyme action during cooking and partially due to heat degradation. When vegetables are cooked at higher temperatures these enzymes are rapidly denatured and have less time to act during cooking. Since slow cookers work at temperatures well below boiling point and do not rapidly denature enzymes, vegetables tend to lose trace nutrients. Blanched vegetables, having been exposed to very hot water, have already had these enzymes rendered largely ineffective, so a blanching or sauteing pre-cook stage leaves more vitamins intact. This is often a smaller nutrient loss than over-boiling and can be lessened to an extent by not removing the lid until the food is done.
Slow cookers do not provide sufficient heat to compensate for loss of moisture and heat due to frequent removal of the lid, e.g., to add and remove food in perpetual stews, (pot-au-feu, olla podrida). Added ingredients must be given time to cook before the food can be eaten.
Because of the longer cooking time, there is greater danger with slow cookers of having an extended power outage during cooking without the cook’s knowledge; for example, the power may go out for several hours while the cook is away at work in places with unreliable power supply.
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