The Chinese slow cooker soup recipes mentioned here can all be cooked over the stove top using a big stock pot but I think it is so much easier with a crockpot.
This kind of cooking can be a long tedious affair because it takes at least an hour and requires constant attention. The soup may boil over or dry out. It needs frequent stirring as heavier ingredients may settle and stick to the bottom of the pot.
Argh, the prospect of having to scrap and scrub. No way! Who has the time to fuss over a pot of soup constantly! It is the digital age and there are so many other things to do!
That is why, thank God for modern inventions that save tremendous effort by automating many things that used to be manual.
My very China slow cooker. It even has a Chinese poem at the side. Photo by Phoebe Lim
Add some Chinese herbs like this herbal beef soup with astragalus, Chinese yam and arrowroot or this beef shank soup with with goji and longans or a ox shin soup with dried tangerine peel. Borscht soup Hong Kong style can also be made in the slow cooker.
Finally, a herbal oxtail soup recipe. This is a light clear herbal soup, not more well known thick stew.
Chicken is also great in the crockpot. They don't need as long as beef. Chicken corn soup is a clear soup with fresh corn and carrot.
Also try this low fat chicken soup with fresh Chinese yam and arrowroot. Or a lady soup like the Chinese chicken soup with solomon's seal.
Let's not forget pork. How about this peanut soup with pig trotters which is more like a yummy stew. Or pair it with a variety of Chinese herbs like Chinese yam and red dates and lotus seeds.
Root vegetables like potato, carrot and lotus root do so well in the slow cooker. You must try the potato soup with pork ribs and carrot and the lotus root soup with red beans and honey dates. Or add more ingredients like dried squid to this basic lotus root soup to ramp up the flavour.
Some leafy vegetables can take long cooking. One good example is the Chinese watercress.
One-pot congee dishes are great as slow cooker soup recipes. Try ginseng and lamb or tomato and pork and more.
The slow cooker has become ubiquitous in a Chinese kitchen because they can be used to make Chinese soups that require long hours of simmering. It is my granny's favourite stew pot for making 老火汤 (lao huo tang), which means, literally, old fire soup.
In English, it is called simmering soups or slow cooking soup. I even come across long hour soup. You see, there's just no equivalent English words for many Chinese cooking terms.
Slow cooker tips
All simmered soups can be made in the slow cooker by keeping the following tips in mind.
There will be less evaporation as compared to stove top cooking. Less liquid should be used if you are using a Chinese soup recipe that uses an open stove method of cooking soup. In any case, the glazed earthern pot shouldn't be more than 70-80% full.
Use hot or warm water instead of room temperature water to shorten the cooking time. That is, if you are really pressed for time.
Keep your pets out of the kitchen when using the crock pot. The outer casing get fairly hot. You won't want your pets especially curious cats to get hurt.
If you do not have a slow cooker and are thinking of getting one, see if you can find a programmable slow cooker with a timer and a keep warm setting. My family has gone through a couple ... yes, we are heavy users. I mentioned earlier that you didn't have to check on the soups constantly. The problem is sometimes I forget that I even had it on. Also, when my granny prepare soups early, she will leave it on LOW using it as a KEEP WARM setting. This means by the time I get home for dinner, the soups can be overcooked. So, when I'm drinking soups that are slightly overcooked, I wish mine had a timer and can keep warm.
Many slow cookers I come across at the shops in Singapore are not programmable. Their target market must be full-time homemakers.
Hamilton beach has a series of programmable slow cooker called Set N Forget. I really like their Hamilton Beach 33967 Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker.
What's the difference between a slow cooker and a crockpot?
They mean the same thing. Crockpot is the name of a brand. It is so famous that many people use the brand name to refer to the real thing. Just like panadol and paracetamol.
The crock pot is a wonderful invention. It consists of:
a heavy glazed earthern pot
an outer casing attached with an electrical heating element
a heavy glass cover
The earthern pot fit snugly into the outer casing. The heat comes from the heating element, which can be kept constant and low, the cooking temperature can also be kept at slightly below boiling point, the ideal temperature for slow cooking soups.
At below boiling point, the soup doesn't boil over and therefore do not need constant watching. The Chinese soups can be kept under cover. This means there is minimum evaporation and little risk of the Chinese soup drying up (unless it has been left for a ridiculously long period of time).
The glass cover of the crockpot allows checking in without lifting the cover and affecting the cooking temperature (for me, it also allow me to peek at what my granny had made for dinner).
Since it is not necessary to watch the soup constantly, there's time to do other things. Take a shower, fetch the kids, watch TV, iron clothes, vacuum the floor, read a book, exercise...etc.
The pot above is one of the pots we used to have. The inner pot is an unglazed earthern pot. All our previous ones have glazed earthern pots and we thought we should try one without. I also liked the design of the exterior casing.
The cooking function is just as good but it takes more effort to clean the inner pot. We will probably revert to a glazed one after this one.
Buying a crockpot?
Thinking of getting a crockpot? There are such a huge range in the marketplace with different sizes, shapes, colours, functions and accessories.
Sizes can range from under 2 quarts to over 7 quarts. What would be a good size? Even though you may be staying alone, it doesn't mean you should get a small crockpot. I think a small pot limits the type of dishes one can prepare. I think a 4-quart pot is quite a good size to buy for singles or small families. One have to consider price too. A 4-quart pot is only a few dollars more than a 2 or 2.5 quart pot, making it more value for money.
I thought the Crock-Pot 3040-VG 4-Quart Round-Shaped Manual, White fits the bill of a value-for-money slow cooker.
Manufacturers have gotten creative with shapes too. Besides the traditional round ones, there are oval ones (to fit a turkey?) and square ones (to fit the counter-top?). There are also different depths. As much as possible, go for a deep pot. Ingredients are better covered in a deep pot which is an important thing for slow cooking. Some of the fat and squat pots might look cute but I don't think they cook soups that well.
If you have some money to spare, do consider getting one that is programmable. It will give you more flexibility to prepare a dish ahead of time but programme the timer to start cooking perhaps later. Great for busy working people or even parents who have to dash here and there to get the kids and still feed them good food.
I like Hamilton beach's series of programmable slow cooker called Set N Forget. The Hamilton Beach 33967 Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable should be great for an active family.
Last but not least, if you entertain a lot and love to cook for people, you might want to consider the pot below. It has three different pots that can cook and serve 3 different dishes all at once. This is great for simultaneous cooking especially for a gathering.
This cooker is huge as each stoneware pot is 2.5 quart. I'm talking about MaxiMatic EWMST-325 Elite Platinum Triple Slow Cooker.
Caring for your pot
Before using, wash the pot in mild soapy water. Rinse and dry it thoroughly. Wipe the outside as it will come into contact with the heating element.
Use oven mittens when removing the inner pot after use. It could still be hot. Do not plunge it into cold water immediately. Fill it with warm water then add detergent and wash.
If there are pieces of food stuck to the pot, fill the pot with warm water and soak it for a while before brushing with a soft brush.
Wipe the outer casing with a towel or wet wipe. The slow cooker is not dishwasher-safe.