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Ten tips for coaxing the best flavours from your slow cooker

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1. Don't overfill. Most slow cookers should be about half or three-quarters filled.

2. Don't peek. Lifting the lid lets the heat escape. If you have too much liquid at the end, either add extra time with the lid off, or simmer the sauce in a pot on the stove.

3. Fatty cuts rule – think shanks, shoulders, short ribs osso bucco. The connective tissue will break down as the meat cooks, creating a rich sauce. Forget chicken skin, unless you like flabbiness.

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4. Think about flavour at the beginning. Since you can't taste as you go, keep in mind that a long braise needs a balance of earthy flavours such as soy sauce, bacon or Worcestershire sauce, and acidic or sweet flavours such as citrus, tomatoes or brown sugar.

5. Add fresh herbs and dairy at the end. Dairy will curdle and fresh herbs will disappear. Stir them in to brighten up the finished dish.

6. Make an effort upfront. Brown your meat, then deglaze the pan with a little wine or stock and add all that caramelized goodness to the slow cooker. Sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes to improve their texture. Chop hard vegetables the same size so they cook evenly.

7. Convert any recipe, but look for ones that simmer for a while on the stove, or cook in the oven for about an hour. One hour of stovetop cooking or in the oven equals approximately 8-10 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high in a slow cooker; 35 minutes is 6-8 hours on low, and 3-4 hours on high. Reduce the liquid in the conventional recipe by about half, but if the recipe doesn't call for any liquid, add in a half cup of stock or water.

8. Warm it up. Try to add room temperature meat and have the slow cooker warmed up before you add the ingredients.

9. It's not just for dinner. Make meat or vegetable stock, applesauce, hot chocolate and hot toddies in the slow cooker.

10. Let it sit. It may sound counterintuitive, but stews and braises taste even better the next day. If you have the time, let the dish sit overnight in the fridge and then slowly warm it the next day on the stove or in the slow cooker.

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