Last week, I shared my three favorite electric cookers and why I find them so practical. This week, I’ll explain how I use them to prepare a few basic kitchen staples.
I must admit that I am not a creative recipe developer. I love trying new things in the kitchen, and would describe myself as a fairly adventurous home cook. To that end, I am heavily dependent on Pinterest. It’s a culinary treasure trove.
I hope to one day try my hand at recipe development, but for now, I’ll leave it to the pros. Today, I just want to share how I use my Crock-Pot and electric pressure cookers to make broth, chicken, and beans. These three basics provide the foundation for a wide variety of dishes, ranging from plain and simple to highly complex.
Ready to start putting those cookers to work?
Slow Cooker Broths
Sure, you can toss a bouillon cube into boiling water, or you can buy a carton of broth at the grocery store. There’s nothing wrong with that. But homemade broth is tasty and nutritious. Plus, it’s a smart way to use cooking scraps and reduce kitchen waste.
Traditionally, broth is slow-simmered in a stockpot on the stove. It requires three basic elements:
- Some combination of vegetables, bones, or meat
And that’s it. Everything else is optional.
Slow cookers make homemade broth such a snap that you almost don’t have to think about it. No fiddling with oven knobs to manage the perfect low simmer. No babysitting the stove all day or leaving burners on all night.
Instead, add the ingredients to your Crock-Pot. Turn it on and walk away. Return some time later and strain. Voila – you now have a big batch of mouth-watering, aromatic broth. Use it to cook rice, as a base for soups and stews, or just sip it from a mug to warm yourself from the inside out.
There are very few rules for making broth. You can add most anything that suits your fancy. Peels, ends, bones, and scraps get you the most bang for your food buck.
- Save your scraps. Any time you prep vegetables, toss the scraps into a large ziplock bag and stash it in your freezer. (Note: There are certain vegetables, like the brassicas, that can make broth bitter. If you aren’t sure whether to include a particular veggie, consult Chef Google.)
- Combine with water. When the bag gets full, dump the contents into your slow cooker. Add water to cover, just enough that the scraps start to float.
- Season to taste. I know this is vague, but it depends entirely on your preference and plans for the broth. If you are going to use it in a recipe, you may not want to do a lot of pre-seasoning. To add a little flavor, consider a bay leaf or two, herbs like parsley or thyme, crushed garlic cloves, peppercorns, or dried mushrooms. Experimentation is fun too. It’s easy to salt to taste when the broth is done.
- Cook. Cook for a minimum of four hours on high or eight hours on low. A couple of extra hours at either setting are fine; much more is unnecessary.
- Strain. When the broth is done, allow it to cool slightly, then remove and discard the mushy veggies. Pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer – lined with cheesecloth, if you’re feeling fancy. Done!
Keep veggie broth in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for four or five days, or freeze it for up to six months. Make sure you use a freezer-safe container and leave space for the broth to expand.
Making slow cooker chicken broth is a similar process. Just include the bones, skin, and assorted scraps left over from a chicken dinner – and in the next section, I’ve included tips for pressure cooking a whole chicken. Butchers usually sell chicken necks and backs for a low price; they also make an excellent broth.
Which vegetables you include is a matter of preference. Add the miscellaneous contents of your scrap bag or, in a pinch, skip veggies entirely. I like to include a base of onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, but I’ll add whatever scraps I have on hand. If I have them, I also like to add pieces of ginger and turmeric root.
Some people advise sprinkling the chicken bones with salt and an acid (such as apple cider vinegar or lemon juice) to help draw out minerals during the cooking process. I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes. I’ve seen mixed data. But it certainly doesn’t hurt, and it adds flavor!
I usually cook chicken broth on high for three to four hours, then switch to low for another eight to ten – typically overnight. That’s only a guideline. Starting at the higher setting kills off any pesky pathogens, while the long lower simmer boosts flavor and maximizes nutrient extraction. Some people simmer their chicken broth over a much longer time, 24 hours or more.
However you get there, the end result is so delicious, so vastly superior to the store-bought stuff, that reserving it for recipes can be a challenge. My husband and son drink it up by the mugful. Truth be told, so do I! That’s why I still keep a couple of emergency cartons in the pantry.
Instant Pot Chicken And Broth
Cuts are convenient, but I almost always buy whole chickens now that I know how easy they are to pressure cook. Then I use the scraps to make broth – in the same pot!
Pressure cooking a chicken will not result in a crisp, browned skin. But that’s okay. So long as presentation is not a concern, and the whole bird isn’t meant to be the centerpiece of a formal meal, it’s worth it. Pressure cooked chicken is so tender and juicy, you won’t miss the skin. Remove it after cooking and save it for the broth.
It’s so easy, you may never pick up another rotisserie chicken.
- Add a cup of water and the trivet to the Instant Pot. I use the trivet that comes with the Instant Pot. It simply holds the bird above the water and makes it easier to lift out after cooking.
- Use paper towels to pat the chicken dry. Season to taste. This can be as simple as adding salt and pepper, or if you prefer a particular spice mix or dry rub, use that. Try to get it all over the top of the skin, and below the skin on the breast side. I often use salt, pepper, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, and smoked paprika, but rarely measure out the exact quantities. What can I say – I like to play it fast and loose.
- Place the chicken on the trivet, seal the lid, and cook on manual high pressure. An average chicken weighs between 4 and 5 pounds, and I find that 25 minutes on high pressure results in an ideal cook. With that said, please always use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat has come to temperature – don’t remove it until it registers 180 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the breast. Adjust the cook time by a couple of minutes for an especially small or large chicken.
- When pressure cooking is complete, allow for a complete natural release (up to 15 minutes). Natural release means that instead of turning the valve to quickly release the steam, you wait for the float to drop on its own. If it hasn’t dropped after 15 minutes, it’s okay to release the remaining steam. A natural release gives the chicken a little more time to cook and produces more tender meat.
After the pressure has been released, use silicon mitts or two large forks to lift the trivet and chicken out of the pot. It will be really hot, so be sure to protect your fingers. Let the chicken rest for about ten minutes before cutting or shredding it. Leave the Instant Pot on the Keep Warm setting, with all of the cooking juices inside.
Now for the broth.
- Remove the skin from the chicken and add it back to the pot.
- Debone the chicken. Add the bones and carcass back to the pot. Sprinkle them with salt and about a tablespoon of acid (apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or lemon juice).
- Add any desired vegetables, as previously described.
- Add water to cover by about an inch or two. Avoid overfilling the pot; don’t exceed two-thirds of capacity.
- Seal the lid of the Instant Pot and set to Slow Cook. Cook on high for three to four hours, then switch to normal for another eight to ten (or overnight). Do not use the low setting! Instant Pots slow cook at a lower temperature than Crock-Pots and other slow cookers. The “normal” setting on an Instant Pot is roughly equivalent to the “low” setting on a Crock-Pot.
- Strain, as previously described. Store the broth in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for three to four days, or freeze for future use. I use a fat separator while portioning it into storage jars. You can also wait for the broth to chill, then skim off any fat that accumulates on top.
This is my absolute favorite method for making chicken broth. It has an amazing depth of flavor, and it usually gels in the fridge, indicating that it is full of healthy gelatin.
One final note regarding chicken broth: To prevent bacterial contamination, you need to cool and store it quickly. Don’t leave it sitting in a pot on the counter for a long period of time. Some people throw ice cubes in it after straining. Personally, I don’t like to water it down. Instead, I plug my sink, add cold water, plenty of ice cubes, and a stainless steel pot, then strain my broth into the pot. The ice bath sufficiently cools it for safe storage.
Pressure Cooker Beans
If you don’t eat meat, you’re still in for a treat: pressure cookers are the best for preparing beans!
Pressure cooking is the most effective way to reduce the amount of potential anti-nutrients, such as lectins, in beans. Raw and undercooked beans contain certain lectins that are extremely toxic. For that reason, you should never slow cook dried beans. A low simmer, even over a long cook time, may be insufficient to fully destroy these toxins.
Pressure cooking, on the other hand, almost completely deactivates the lectins in beans. This has the additional benefit of making them easier to digest. Soaking beans prior to pressure cooking is not necessarily required, but if beans cause you gastrointestinal distress, it is highly recommended. Simply cover the beans in water and leave them in the fridge overnight. Discard the soaking water before cooking.
To pressure cook dry beans:
- Use eight cups of water for one pound of dry beans. Combine in the Instant Pot, Ninja Foodi, or your electric pressure cooker of choice. Do not fill the pot more than halfway, as the beans will expand.
- Add seasonings as desired. Seasonings are optional. You may include a bay leaf or two, garlic, or onions. If desired, you can use the Sauté setting and a tablespoon of oil to soften the garlic and onions prior to adding the water and beans. Just don’t add salt until the end, as it can make the beans turn tough.
- Cook on manual high pressure. As a general guideline, pressure cook for 30 minutes, followed by a complete natural release. If you soaked your beans overnight, you may want to reduce the cook time by five or ten minutes. If your beans come out a bit hard, cook them for another five to ten minutes. (Note: This cook time does not apply to lentils, which cook much faster than beans and will break down into mush.)
- Add salt as desired. Start small, with a teaspoon or so, and proceed from there.
Enjoy in soups, salads, over rice, or any way you like!
Where Will Your Cooker Take You?
If you are an aspiring home cook, fundamentals like broth, chicken, and beans are a good way to get your feet wet. They are simple and nutritious, and can be used in an array of recipes. Thanks to electric cookers, they are also convenient – and that makes all the difference.
When you are ready to take your electric cooker game to the next level, you will find your tribe on Pinterest. Each brand of cooker has its own devoted following and inexhaustible supply of recipes. I hope to see you there – happy cooking!
Do you have a tried and true, go-to cooker recipe? Tell us about it in a comment!