Slow-cooked meats are a winter highlight when it comes to home cooking, so we asked Neat Meat’s Adam Nixon how to get the best results.
Just as barbecuing is a summer highlight, delicious meals of slow-cooked meats are something to savour during the winter months. Neat Meat butchers supply many of the country’s top restaurants, as well as having retail outlets in Auckland and Queenstown, so they know a thing or two about cooking great meat. We spoke to Adam Nixon, Neat Meat’s retail butchery manager, to find out everything you need to know for slow-cooking success.
Adam says some of his favourite cuts to slow-cook are beef cheek and oxtail. “Both contain lots of collagen, which breaks down in the cooking process and makes the meat really rich and tender.” He also enjoys brisket, and says if you’re a bit short on time, diced chuck steak is a good option as the slow-cooking time will only be a few hours. If you’re a fan of pork, Adam recommends going with pork shoulder, which is perfect for long and slow cooking. “If you’re cooking belly you really want to create crackling, so I prefer to roast it,” says Adam.
And, if you keep the meat on the bone during cooking you’ll get more flavour. “Your classic lamb shank is a great choice, or ask for an oyster shoulder,” says Adam. “This is a piece of lamb shoulder that has had the backbone removed, but the blade and thigh bones are still there. It just makes it a bit more of a manageable size to fit in a pot, while still giving you flavour from cooking on the bone.”
Electric slow-cookers enable you to do a bit of prep the night or morning before you want to serve your meal. You can head out to work or weekend activities and return home to a dish that tastes fantastic. Adam says he’s also a big fan of pressure cookers because, “they mean you can essentially do a midweek ‘slow-cook’ as in just half an hour the majority of the work’s done.” If you don’t already own a slow-cooker or pressure cooker, take a look at the Davis & Waddell Electric Multicooker, $199.99, which works as both. And of course if you are home while you’re cooking, you can always slow-cook in your oven or on the stovetop. “There’s something a bit romantic about pottering around at home while your Le Creuset’s simmering away,” says Adam.
Before you throw everything in your slow-cooker or casserole dish and walk away, it’s important to always sear the meat first. “You’re adding to the flavour by doing this, creating caramelisation,” says Adam. “And make sure to get the heat high, and really brown the meat — you don’t want it to just be grey.” After you’ve seared the meat, you should also deglaze the pan (this means adding liquid to a dish — wine or stock is fine — and allowing it to bubble up while using a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan) to make sure you’ve captured all the flavour.
Adding seasonings is also key, and Adam recommends doing this a few days in advance if you have time. “You can make a bit of a dry spice blend, rub it all over the meat and then refrigerate for a day or two before cooking. Even if you’re just seasoning with salt, do it a few days beforehand to help break down the tissue, soften the meat a bit and infuse that flavour in. I’ll do this if I’m cooking a steak as well - season it with salt the night before and you’ll notice the difference.”
Essentially, meat, some liquid and seasonings are all you need for slow-cooking. Using wine and stock for your liquid will give you lots of flavour (Adam says he likes a peppery merlot in beef or lamb slow-cooks), and depending on what kind of cuisine you’re cooking, you can add whatever herbs and spices you like. If you enjoy Asian flavours, ingredients such as star anise, cinnamon, cloves and cumin work well; if you’re going French-style, choose the likes of bay leaves, rosemary and thyme.
If you’re having friends over for dinner, slow-cook a dish in advance, so you are free to relax and enjoy time with them. If you cook your meal at least 24 hours ahead of time, the flavours will develop over a day or two, and you can also skim off and discard the fat after your dish has been in the fridge for a night.
If you’re not catering for a crowd, still use a large piece of meat and create several meals from it. You can serve beef cheeks with a rich potato dish one night, then shred the leftover meat and turn it into a ragu with pasta the following night. “Classic French and Italian flavours are always nice, but you don’t have to be traditional,” says Adam. “You could turn that shredded beef cheek into a Mexican quesadilla, or add it to an Asian-inspired noodle soup.”
Adam says he also likes to use his slow-cooker to make stock. “You can chuck the chicken bones from your Sunday roast in it overnight, then the next day you’ll have made a beautiful stock, ready for soup that night. And while it’s not essential, if you have time it’s worth dry-roasting the bones in the oven before you slow-cook them - it just gives you greater depth of flavour.”