Finding the time to cook a hearty, delicious dinner can feel like a daily dilemma. Here are some tricks to help you succeed more often. Whether you have a trendy multicooker or a classic slow cooker — or both — you can put these compact countertop appliances to work as sous-chefs in your kitchen. They’ll help you get a home-cooked meal on the table and minimize the dinnertime rush.
Multicookers are the hottest kitchen appliances around, and devotees can’t stop talking about them. As the name suggests, a multicooker is the kitchen equivalent of a jack of all trades: It can steam, sauté and slow-cook.
But at its heart, a multicooker is a revamped pressure cooker. Pressure cooking works by heating liquid to its boiling point to create steam. Under a locked, sealed lid (with a vent), the steam increases the pressure, which forces liquid into food much faster and, in turn, cuts down on cooking time. Don’t want to stand over a pot of beef stew all afternoon? A multicooker will have it ready in under an hour. Forgot to prepare the dried beans for chili? No problem. The multicooker will pressure-cook unsoaked beans in the same amount of time it would take to simmer soaked beans on the stovetop. It’s the ultimate appliance for people who don’t like to plan meals too far in advance and want dinner on the double.
In addition to making quick work of dried legumes and tough cuts of meat, the pressure-cooker setting is excellent for preparing rice — especially time-consuming brown rice — and keeps it warm like a rice cooker. And those stubborn grains, like wheat berries, that seem to take forever to soften? The pressure-cooker setting will cut the cooking time in half.
The sauté function is another big selling point of this appliance. You can brown meats for stews and vegetables for soups right in the cooker. All the toasty brown bits that add flavour stay in the pot, and it’s one less dish to wash at the end of the night.
Multicookers have a couple of other convenient functions. Many have a delay-start button, which means you can add the recipe ingredients and set the timer so cooking begins later in the day when you’re not around. Multicookers also have a handy keep-warm button, which lowers the heat once cooking is done so a finished recipe will stay warm until you’re ready to serve it.
Finally, the latest multicooker models can make thick, creamy yogurt. Some also have a sterilizer setting for cleaning things like baby bottles and preserving jars, and a sous-vide function, too.
Despite the popularity of multicookers, there will always be a place in a home kitchen for a traditional slow cooker. Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles of a multicooker — some prefer the simplicity of adding the ingredients, setting it and forgetting it, which is what a slow cooker does best.
Like a pot set over very low heat, a slow cooker will simmer your ingredients gently, resulting in a hot, delicious meal that requires no hands-on tending. It excels at all the comforting dishes you crave in cooler weather, such as chowders, curries and hearty stews.
If you have a programmable slow cooker, you can set it up in the morning, before you leave for work, and come home to a yummy dinner. It will cook at the proper temperature for the specified number of hours, and then switch to the warm setting to keep the food hot and ready for your arrival. (Make sure your cooker changes to warm automatically so food doesn’t cool down to an unsafe temperature.) You can safely hold cooked food for up to two hours at 60°C (140°F).
Slow cookers do more than just simmer soups and stews. They can roast beef, like our Slow Cooker Beef Pot Roast; bake moist cakes and breads, like Slow Cooker Cheesy Garlic Bread; and even make desserts, like Festive Slow Cooker Carrot Pudding.
A slow cooker can also come in handy for keeping food warm on a buffet at a holiday feast or big get-together. It’s especially handy if it is a large oval or rectangular model that accommodates party-size portions, and comes with a clear lid that allows guests to see what’s inside. Most new slow cookers have a warm setting, which is great for buffets; those that don’t shouldn’t be used for this purpose.
Since multicookers have a slow-cook setting, why do you need a separate slow cooker? Good question. Many users have found that slow cooking isn’t the strong suit of the multicooker’s strong suit. Since a multicooker lid has only a small vent, it allows for very little evaporation, creating thinner, less-concentrated sauces than those simmered in a slow cooker. Multicookers are also always round, due to basic pressure cooker design. They may not accommodate large, wide cuts of meat, such as brisket or pork shoulder roasts, which fit well in a large oval or rectangular stoneware insert.