When it comes to slow cooking meat, one question that often comes up is whether or not to brown the meat before adding it to the slow cooker. There are arguments for both sides. Ultimately the decision comes down to personal preference and what type of dish you’re trying to create.
One argument for browning the meat before slow cooking is that it adds a deeper, more complex flavour to the dish. Browning the meat creates a crust that seals in the juices. It also helps to develop a more intense colour, which can be appealing in certain dishes.
On the other hand, some people argue that browning the meat is unnecessary and can actually dry out the meat. Slow cooking is a low and slow process, and the meat will cook through regardless of whether it has been browned first. Additionally, browning the meat can add an extra step and a mess to the process, which can be a deterrent for some people.
So, should you brown meat before slow cooking? Well, it depends on the recipe, personal taste and the type of meat you are using.
Lean and white meats
In general, lean meats like chicken breast, turkey breast and pork tenderloin are less likely to dry out. They can be cooked straight in the slow cooker.
There’s always exceptions to every rule though. You might have seen our skin-on honey mustard chicken thighs recipe recently. We browned the chicken thighs skin-side down in a hot pan first, to get some lovely colour and flavour to the fatty skin.
Fattier and darker meats
Beef, lamb and pork shoulder, which have more fat, can benefit from browning before cooking in a slow cooker. In most instances we’d recommend this step.
Again, it’s not a hard and fast rule. You may have noticed that we didn’t brown the beef meatballs in this fakeaway meatball marinara sub recipe. That’s because we were going for ultimate ease and the meatballs were in a rich tomato sauce to be covered in cheese later on, so we decided it wasn’t a necessary step.
What about stuff like onions, garlic and wine?
Just to extend the debate further, sautéing onions or garlic, and reducing wine before slow cooking is another topic that brings out differing opinions. Sautéing onions and garlic beforehand caramelises them, which can enhance the overall taste of the dish. Reducing wine before slow cooking can also help to intensify the flavour by evaporating the alcohol and concentrating the taste.
Onions in particular can have a bitter taste if slow cooked without being sautéed first. So if you’re doing a dish that heavily relies on onions for flavour, we recommend taking this step first. On the other hand, if it’s a dish that’s rich in other flavours like a tomato-based sauce, using raw onion is fine but it’s worth dicing it up small.
As to whether you should sauté other ingredients, or reduce wine or stock, we’d say it’s not essential by any means – but if you’ve got the pan out to already to brown some meat – then why not?
In conclusion, browning the meat before slow cooking is a matter of personal preference. It can add a deeper flavour and colour to your dish, but it is not necessary for the meat to cook through. It all depends on your recipe, taste and the type of meat you are using.
The more you slow cook, the more you’ll understand what your preferences are. We’ve spent years experimenting with slow cooking and still test recipes thoroughly today. That often involves trying recipes with both browned and unbrowned meats. Then we only bring you recipes once we know they work. You can use our recipe finder to pick something out to try today!
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