Live webchat with Antony Worrall Thompson
King of the slow cooker Antony Worrall Thompson visited MNHQ (temporarily relocated to Justine's kitchen) for our latest 'Bake Day Video' on 18 January 2011. He showed us how to prepare a melt-in-the-mouth one-pot roast chicken for a slow cooker (plus some top carving tips), before fielding your questions on how to get the most out of your slow cooker in a live webchat.
The webchat coincided with the launch of Antony's latest book, Slow Cooking, where you can find the majority of the recipes he suggests below.
Cappster: I'd like to know a good resource for slow cooker recipes. The last time I bought a magazine which offered a 'slow cooker special' feature it was all the old staples - soup, spag bol, etc. And online, there are lots of recipes from US sites which all involve condensed soup! But I don't have any more space for books. Any advice?
Antony: Well, my book has just been published by Mitchell Beazley, and as a chef I always try to create more exciting recipes than your ordinary recipes. There's also slow cooking recipes for hob and oven. You'll still find one or two basics, but I try and be a bit more imaginative. For instance, on This Morning I did Keralan lamb shank curry. There's also North African curry with spiced fruits and nuts. But there are lots of vegetarian recipes and quite a few fish ones as well.
Lulumaam: I've recently seen a recipe for slow cooker porridge - any other breakfast ideas? I love the idea of staggering downstairs bleary eyed and only having to lift the lid on the slow cooker and tada, a hot cooked brekky! Also, any ideas for breast of lamb in the slow cooker? It's such a great cheap cut, but so hard to do much with.
Antony: There's a recipe for kedgeree in my book. Porridge would be tricky because the ideal time would be three hours which isn't great if you're sleeping! You can add lots of different things though, which is what's great about porridge. For the weekend breakfast, I like a veg and red pepper gratin. There's also a spiced rice in the book, which would be great with a poached egg on top! Jam's also excellent in the slow cooker.
bitzermaloney: If you only had five minutes to put something in the slow cooker before rushing out, what would you put in to ensure a tasty meal ready for your return? (No browning meat, etc.)
Antony: Chicken! Anything with chicken, really, it doesn't need browning. Browning will add to the flavour though. Throw in a few root vegetable, roughly diced and some good stock, maybe a splash of wine, and let it all come together. Remember, in a slow cooker, root vegetables often take longer than the meat to cook, so place them around the perimeter of the slow cooker.
MummyPlonk: Are there any fish or seafood stews that are safe to cook slowly? We love fish but I'm scared of poisoning people!
Antony: In my new book Slow Cooking there are several fish recipes: Spanish fish stew and fish in saffron are great. On page 108 you will find the not-so-classic fish pie. And if the fish is fresh, you won't poison anyone.
TheSleepFairy: Could you suggest some tasty puddings for the children that I can do in my slow cooker please.
Antony: How about a chocolate saucy pudding, a chocolate baked cheesecake with a brownie twist, maple cream caramel, treacle sponge, Jamaican coconut bananas (leave out the rum on that one)... the list goes on!
molemesseskilledIpom: I love Biryani but it takes ages to make on the stove. Can this be made in the slow cooker so I can just leave it to work its magic?
Antony: I have a recipe for turkey meatballs with tomato rice pilaf, which is very similar. But even in a slow cooker, ordinary rice generally only takes about 40 minutes, so you can't really leave it for very long. I can help you do a Biryani.
Sweat the onions with the spices first in a non-flavoured oil, then add your protein, whatever it is, with your rice. Toss to combine, then add 1 1/2 times (by volume) the amount of rice you have in stock or water. Then place a wet piece of greaseproof paper on top of the rice, then a lid. Pop into a 190C oven, cook for 18 minutes. Remove from oven but don't lift the lid for five minutes. Then give it a stir and all the liquid should have evaporated.
crazybutterflylady: I am a bit squirmish about meat on the bone and have so far been unable to find a recipe for chicken that uses boneless breasts. So all I cook in my slow cooker is beef casserole (nice but snore!). Do you have any suggestions as to how I could include boneless chicken (skinless preferably) in slow cooker?
Antony: I have some recipes for using boneless thighs and chicken breasts in my new boo. You could try something like, for example, aromatic chicken with orange, or jerk chicken.
jonicomelately: Do you have a recipe which is posh and impressive enough to serve to friends?
Antony: How about Arabian roast lamb and potatoes - deeeelicious. Or braised hare with tolosa beans? Or pot-roasted partridge with cider and Calvados? You'll find lots more glamorous recipes in the book!
arentfanny: Any more pheasant recipes for the slow cooker? I have about 20 of them in the freezer.
Antony: You could take the breasts off and use anything you'd use chicken breast for, or the same with the thighs, but never use the drumsticks and carcass except for making a good stock or soup. The drumsticks are incredibly sinewy and no amount of slow cooking is going to help.
GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh: Can you recommend some good seasonal spring/summer slow cooker dishes? Everything seems to be for autumn/winter and really heavy!
Antony: The nature of the beast means that recipes generally will be winter comfort food, but I have made things such as smoked fish terrine, baked eggs with leeks and tomato, caramelised pork ribs with bourbon and ginger, or braised squid with peas and potatoes.
Housemum: My shelves are groaning under the weight of cookbooks - give me something to tempt me with your one. What non-mushy, non-casseroled recipes are in your book to make me want it?
Antony: Can you match the 6000 books I have? And I've read every one. How about poached figs with blackberries, or a spiced apple terrine in yoghurt. Or then there's baked Lebanese fruit with blue cheese, or a really nice beef rendang. Is that enough ideas? Have you ever heard of Ghugni? If not, you'll find it in my book, that's my tease...
chimchar: Any tips on adapting cooking times so that I can make 'normal' recipes in my slow cooker? Also, what are some of your favourite child-friendly slow cooker dishes?
Antony: Most normal recipes will work in a slow cooker on a braise or slow cook basis. The trick is that you only need half the liquid of a normal recipe. The recipe that I am cooking in the video today (pot-roast chicken) is very child friendly.
dietcokes: Can you recommend what to look for when you're buying a slow cooker?
Antony: I would always buy the largest possible, with an oval base, rather than round, since oval suits poultry and legs of lamb etc. Also, get a glass lid so you can see what's going on without breaking the seal. You can also buy a slow cooker with lots of settings - not just low and high. You might want a 'medium', 'keep warm' or even 'brown'. Unless you only cook for few people, I would always recommend the largest one.
headfairy: Can you tell me how I can avoid stews and casseroles done in the slow cooker all ending up as a homogenous mush? They all seem to taste the same and all vegetables lose any kind of bite. Is there a way of introducing some texture without losing the convenience of just being able to chuck it all in and leave it?
Antony: Here I would suggest you're either buying meat that's pre-cut in small pieces, or you've got too much liquid. Try cutting the chunks of veg and meat into slightly larger chunks. On a low setting it's almost impossible to overcook the food. Normally I would place the meat in the centre of the cooker and the veg on the outside. Always remember, if you're using green vegetables, they should go in at the end on a high setting, while root vegetables should go in on a low setting.
Scootergrrrl: Do you really have to pre-cook food before it goes into the slow cooker? It kind of takes away from the convenience of it all.
Antony: Of course you can chuck everything in without pre-browning but you won't get the same flavour. The browning gives a wonderful caramelised flavour to the liquid content. Perhaps think about becoming a vegetarian - vegetables don't need any browning!
SecretNutellaFix: I'm always a bit concerned about the amount of liquid to use. Do you find that the majority of recipes say to use too much liquid? Or is the reason my food is runny because I have the cooker on too long? I have to leave mine on for over nine hours due to working all day and no way of getting home at lunch to switch it on then.
Antony: If you have a good slow cooking book (like mine) you will find a section at the beginning called Slow Cooker: All you need to know. If you read this section, it will give you the basis for most slow cooker recipes. The key point is the liquid content is half that of a normal recipe, you can't, on a slow setting, overcook any food, so if you are late home the food won't be ruined.
NessaRose: I had a disaster the first (and only) time I used my slow cooker. I tried to do a pork belly and apple casserole, but the apple went all mushy and the pork was not cooked through. I followed the cooking guidelines that said to cook for 8 hours on high. What did I do wrong?
Antony: Where do I start? Which apples did you use? Big mistake if you used Bramleys because they turn into sauce... High cooking is really for big joints and finishing off dishes, not for a casserole, where presumably you diced the meat. So I suggest using a Low setting and a dessert apple such as Cox or Granny Smith in big chunks. Hope that helps!
NumptyMum: Can you do whole chicken in a slow cooker? I do lots of casserole-type recipes that I love and which are great for the kids, but sometimes it's nice to cook plain meat to then use in a variety of things (and make stock from the leftovers and bones). I'd really like to be able to cook moist chicken rather than the dried out roast from my fan oven. My mum in the past made the most amazing chicken in her pressure-cooker; is it possible in a slow cooker?
Antony: The recipe I'm making in this video can cook a whole chicken. For this, the best thing is to get a 4l slow cooker to make sure that it will fit. The best thing about slow cooking is you can use the left over liquid for stock. A pressure cooker is the opposite but you can achieve similar results with practice.
NatalieCallaghan: I was wondering whether I could put a whole chicken into the slow cooker without liquid? Would it still come out as tender and juicy? (Odd question. I am on a plan which doesn't allow me to mix root veg with my chicken, so)
Antony: No, you have to use liquid with a slow cooker or the chicken will dry out, although it doesn't need to be a lot. Your question about root vegetables is a tricky one, as they are the basis of most slow cooker recipes, but if you get a good stock and add green vegetables at the end you can achieve the results you are looking for.
Jules2011: I have an Aga which I am slowly getting used to, and cooked lovely lamb shanks in it the other day with rosemary and shallots. It was really tasty but it needed some sauce. How can I use the juices to make a sauce? Or do you suggest something else?
Antony: It depends which oven you're using, but your slow oven on the Aga will act like a slow cooker, so any slow cooking recipes will suit. If you're cooking lamb shank, I would always suggest a liquid stew base, because you'll be cooking the shank long and slow and you want it to keep moist.
lagrandissima: I'd like advice on what to do with whole joints of meat. I'm nervous about cooking pork particularly in the slow cooker, as I can't believe the 'high' setting is high enough to cook the meat thoroughly. How do you do it? Ideally I'd like the meat to fall apart in threads - yummy.
Antony: The great thing about slow cookers is that meat, cooked well, will be very tender. Any joint of meat will be suitable but ideally use the cheaper cuts. Don't worry about cooking pork for long enough, it is ok to be cooked long and slow according to my recipes.
Hattifattner: How can I cook beef in a slow cooker? No matter how long I cook it, it's never as good as cooking it in the oven. Also any advice on thickening sauces in a slow cooker?
Antony: Using beef in a slow cooker will always be a different flavour from that high caramelised oven taste. A good piece of beef will take the best part of 8-10 hours. Thickening sauces is a good question, most chefs would advise a reducing method, turn cooker up to a high setting and reduce slowly. Failing that, try cornflour!
no1chick: Which meat is easiest to slow cook?
Antony: Tricky question! Probably chicken, but despite this healthy world we live in, I can't possibly not mention that the fattier, the better! Either shoulder or belly of pork I'd say. Fat is where the flavour is! As a tip, you can always pre-cook, cool and refrigerate then skim the solidified fat off the top before reheating.
deemented: Non SC question now - Did you enjoy doing Ready Steady Cook?
Antony: Yes, loved every minute of the 13 years that I was on there! I particularly loved beating Brian Turner and I think I'm the only person to have beaten your blue-eyed boy Gino D'Acampo, but I'm sure he'll never admit it! In all seriousness, it started my TV career, and I have to thank it every day.
TracyK: I read on an earlier thread to chop meat and vegetables into larger chunks. What size should the chunks of, say, beef or chicken be?
Antony: I'm an old boy, so I would say 1 1/2", but you would probably say 4cm. Unfortunately most supermarket meat is about 1 1/2". Another reason to go to your local butcher!
aristocat: Do you have a yummy, easy cake recipe for the slow cooker?
Antony: You're right, it's not easy making cakes in the slow cooker. But I did do a delicious chocolate-baked cheesecake with a brownie twist. Give it a shot!
Blackduck: Is it just me, or do tomatoes smell weird when cooked in a slow cooker? I am put off by the 'smell', though usually tastes okay - any ideas?
Antony: How new is the slow cooker?! There's always a weird smell from new equipment. Not normally a problem, but what are you cooking?
insertexpletive: Quick question about frozen food. Do frozen vegetables, etc, always need to be defrosted first, regardless of low or high setting?
Antony: In answer to your question, not really. You add green veg at the end of cooking with a High setting normally, so they will defrost and cook quite quickly. Vegetables like broad beans, or edamame beans can be given longer cooking anyway and the remaining frozen vegetables, to my knowledge, have been pre-blanched and need very little cooking.
LoveBeingADaddysGirl: What can I cook in my slow cooker that's not a boring chicken tomato-based stew (prefer no bones)? And a cheeky second question which celeb chef would you like to see slow cooked?
Antony: To answer your second question, that's really easy! Even after slow cooking, he's still going to be very gristly and tough, but that's the best I can offer for Gordon Ramsay. Have a look in my new book for a large variety of different recipes!
TessOfTheDinnerbells: Please could you tell me which recipe you would recommend for a pretty hopeless cook as a failsafe dinner party recipe? Would be great if it would suit any number of guests from four to 12.
Antony: A failsafe is making a slash inside a big chicken breast, inserting a mixture of parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta and basil and wrapping it all in a couple of slices of Parma ham. Secure with a toothpick if required (I never do). Pan fry until golden and pop in the oven for 15 minutes. Serve with pasta (penne or spaghetti) tossed with garlic, parsley and chilli and lots of olive oil. Piece of cake (or not, as the case may be).
grandmabet: My daughter has said that I am an "atrocious cook" because I do not follow the recipe. Are you one of those who follow rigidly or, like me, do you improvise - and who do you think is the wiser?
Antony: I am like you, improvising all the time, except for puds, pastries and bread, where I think you have to be fairly rigid with your measurements. However, I've never been accused of being atrocious, so maybe we're not quite the same! Keep smiling and tell them those little burnt bits are vanilla seeds!
MollieO: The recipes in your new book look excellent, but why all the staring at the camera holiday snap photography?
Antony: What can I say? It was a woman behind the camera and us men always do what we're told, don't we guys? (Off the record, I agree it's a bit cheesy)
no1chick: Will you be bringing out a regular cook book for the summer BBQ season?
Antony: Give me a break, I've just finished two other ones! Low Fat Cooking and my latest, Slow Cooking. However, if you go to Amazon, you'll find my bestselling Barbecuing and Grilling book, published by Kyle Cathie.
CuppaTeaJanice: You are a patron of the pro-smoking lobby group Forest (according to Wikipedia). If it weren't now illegal, would you prefer your restaurants to allow customers to smoke at the table? And do you not find the smells or tastes of a smoky atmosphere conflicts with the delicious and often delicate flavours that you are presumably trying to create in your dishes (or maybe you think it enhances it)? Not anti-smoking, by the way, just interested in your opinions on experiencing smoke and food together. Seems a bit like listening to an iPod at a concert in terms of conflicting sensations!
Antony: Just before I reply, Forest is not pro-smoking, but pro-freedom of choice. I wouldn't like the law changed back for restaurants as I don't think you can enjoy a good meal with smoke surrounding you. But I do think pubs should have a smoking facility rather than ostracising many of their hard-core drinkers. As adults, we always have the right to choose and if you don't like the pub, you can always choose another one. Pubs are, after all, meant to be centres of adult social entertainment.
solo: Have you given up smoking (in the kitchen) yet?
Antony: Never in the kitchen! But - what day of the week is it? It's in my plans, but then so is going to the top of Everest. Fingers crossed.