If you want to cook tender, succulent slow-food, you'll need the right gear, so consider the myriad options – from stock pots and crock pots to tagines and pressure cookers.
The art of slow cooking is a centuries-old tradition that has produced some of the world’s finest dishes, from osso bucco to cassoulet, pot-au-feu to bolognese a ragu. Traditional implements, such as Moroccan tagines or South African potjie pots, still do the trick, but modern cooks have other choices that can make slow cooking simpler and speedier.
Often synonymous with the American brand Crock Pot, slow cookers are electrical appliances that are ideal for moist heat, slow-simmered dishes. Big in the ’70s, they’ve seen a resurgence in popularity recently, due to their ability to transform cheap cuts of meat into resplendent meals with minimal effort. Many home cooks love them for their “set and forget” cooking capability, as they allow dishes to bubble away unattended for many hours over low heat. Slow cookers enable you to throw ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, turn it on, and return home at night to a deliciously rich braise or bolognese.Look for:
You want a slow cooker that’s easy to assemble, store and clean. A removable pot that can go from stove top to base is handy. This feature allows you to brown meat first, reduce sauces and put ingredients together in the evening and store in the fridge overnight, ready to go first thing in the morning. Look, also, for multiple heat settings and an automatic timer that will turn itself off to avoid overcooking.
The antithesis of slow cookers, pressure cookers offer the ideal solution for time-poor cooks who still desire the taste of slow cooking. Pressure cookers allow you to produce dishes that typically take hours – be it chicken stock or braised beef cheeks – in a mere fraction of the time. Besides saving time, pressure-cooking also retains more vitamins and uses less energy. Food is cooked in liquid using a gasket-sealed pan to retain steam and build pressure; this raises the boiling point and breaks food down more quickly, shortening cooking time by up to 70 per cent. Look for:
Consider the size of your family, your storage space and what you like to cook when choosing the size of your pressure cooker. The larger sizes (seven to nine litres) are very versatile and can cook enough for two meals or accommodate whole chickens or legs of lambs, or can also be used as a stockpot. Aluminum cookers are cheaper but the stainless-steel variety are easier to clean, are more durable and have a solid base that distributes heat well and prevents hot spots forming.
French for saucepan, a casserole is a large, deep dish used for slow cooking food in the oven, so that heat circulates evenly around the pot. The word has also come to refer generally to the dishes cooked in it, which can range from stews and braises to baked pasta or potato dishes, such as lasagna, moussaka or gratins. Casseroles are ideal for one-pot meat and vegetable dishes that require long, slow cooking. Look for:
Casseroles come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s a good idea to have a selection, or at least determine which size you’re likely to use most often. Round casseroles are ideal for braises, stews and soups, but oval-shaped dishes work better for roasting large cuts of meat and whole poultry. As for the material, the heavier the better – choose enameled cast iron, ceramic or stainless steel.
This is a type of casserole dish with high, thick sides and a tight lid, ideal for long, slow cooking of braises, stews and roasts. Dutch ovens have been used in slow cooking for centuries and are popular the world over by various names. A large size is preferable as it allows more room for air to circulate freely. Look for:
The best known brands are Le Creuset and Le Chasseur. They’re not cheap, but if looked after properly, a good quality one should last you a lifetime. These dishes can be started off on the stovetop and then moved to the oven. Enameled cast iron is ideal as it distributes heat evenly and won’t rust. Seal your Dutch oven with olive or vegetable oil after each use to create a non-stick surface and prevent rust. Store it with the lid ajar to avoid the smell or taste of rancid oil.
The cooking dish is used to make the slow-cooked North African dishes of the same name. The traditional tagine is made of heavy clay, painted or glazed, it has a flat, circular base with low sides and a large cone-shaped cover. The shape is designed to move condensation to the bottom of the dish and allow steam to circulate, which cooks meat and vegetables to tender perfection. Tagines are an ideal way to slow-cook cheaper cuts of meat, such as lamb shank or shoulder, until it falls off the bone. Look for:
You can buy tagines in a variety of materials, including the traditional clay, as well as ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron. Their price and versatility vary widely. Some of the cheaper clay varieties cannot tolerate high heat on the stove, meaning that meat cannot be browned in them first. Ideally, invest in a more expensive, but long-lasting and versatile, ceramic, stainless steel or enameled cast-iron tagine.
With their straight sides and rounded base, stock pots are obviously the ideal implement for making stock and stock reductions. They are also handy for cooking large quantities of slowly simmered pasta sauces and soups, or boiling meat or vegetables.Look for:
Stock pots come in a range of sizes, but, if you’re cooking for a crowd, the larger-sized ones will be the most versatile, provided you have the storage space. Pots made of cheap materials can scorch and stick, and won’t last well. Get one with a thick, heavy base to prevent burning and increase the lifespan of the pot. Make sure the handles are securely attached to the pot with heavy screws or rivets.