The slow cooker is the best soup pot for slow cooking soups
The slow cooker 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.
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.
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.
After you purchase a pot, try making these soup and congee recipes.
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This page has been edited and updated on 26 July 2013.
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