Slow cookers are one of the greatest inventions for busy adults. They allow you to prepare a meal with minimal effort. But because they take so long to cook food, you might be wondering if they can break down the hard structure of potatoes.
Potatoes will soften in a slow cooker when you put it at boiling temperature and cook it for 7-8 hours on low heat. You can also use a slow cooker to roast, bake, and cook mashed potatoes.
In this article, we’ll cover everything there is to know about how slow cookers work. We’ll also explain how potatoes soften and cook. Lastly, we’ll provide you with practical ways to cook potatoes in your slow cooker.
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How Does a Slow Cooker Work?
A slow cooker, also known as a crock-pot, works with a combination of three different parts:
- The outer layer
- The inner pot
- The lid
This outer layer has heating coils, like those found in an oven, which heat the slow cooker and cook the contents. These coils are covered in a metal casing that insulates the heat.
Inside of the outer layer, the inner pot holds the food and liquids and is made from glazed ceramic. The entire crockpot is completed with a lid, which traps the pot’s heat and steam.
The slow cooker is designed to cook the contents on low heat over a long period. When you turn on the slow cooker, the coils inside the outer layer start to heat up. This starts to heat the space between the inner and outer layers. It raises the inner pot’s temperature to anywhere from 82 to 149℃ (180 to 300℉).
During the cooking process, the food generates steam. The airtight lid traps the steam inside, which forms condensation. Because the condensation can’t exit the slow cooker, it helps to keep the food moist while it cooks.
Many slow cookers will change to a warm setting after they have finished cooking the food inside. This allows you to turn it on before leaving the house for work and coming home to a perfectly cooked meal.
How Do Potatoes Soften?
Potatoes come from the potato plant and are mostly made up of starch and water. Starch is a common kind of carbohydrate.
|Nutrient||Grams per 100g|
Humans cannot digest raw starch, so you need to cook a potato to soften it before eating it. When you cook a potato, it reduces the amount of fiber and protein because they leave the potato and absorb into the cooking water.
Here is how a potato softens:
- Heat moves through the potato from the outside to the inside.
- The cell membrane breaks.
- The vacuole membrane breaks.
- The starch granule membranes break.
- The starch granules fill with water, swell, and burst.
- This swelling causes the cell wall to rupture and release the contents, including the starch.
Starch granules start to swell with water and burst at between 58 and 66℃ (137 to 150℉). However, this is just the start of the softening process.
A potato starts to soften fully when the cell walls rupture. This process makes the potato lose its firm shape and become more squishy in texture. This is because the cell wall usually maintains the rigid shape of the potato.
To achieve a full softening of potatoes, you need to cook potatoes up to the water’s boiling point. The boiling point for water at sea level is 100℃ (212℉).
Do Potatoes Soften in a Slow Cooker?
If you can get the slow cooker to the boil and maintain it for long enough, potatoes will soften and cook.
However, some potatoes are better suited to slow cookers than others.
There are two main kinds of potatoes:
- Waxy – Waxy potatoes have a lower starch content, which makes them wetter and loses less of their shape during the cooking process. They are usually used in casseroles and gratins. Common waxy potatoes are red and new. Waxy potatoes are better suited to a slow cooker because they can soften without melting and completely losing their shape.
- Mealy – Mealy potatoes have a higher starch content in their cells, which makes them drier and denser. Their cell structure also breaks down more easily during the cooking process. Mealy potatoes are usually used for fries, mashed potatoes, and baked potatoes. Common mealy potatoes are russets and purple.
Ways to Cook Potatoes in a Slow Cooker
Now that you know that you can cook and soften potatoes in a slow cooker, you’re probably looking for recipes and techniques. The following simple recipes are great starting points for learning how to use your slow cooker for potatoes successfully.
Stews are the quintessential slow cooker food. You can throw many ingredients into one pot and come back hours later to a complete meal. This simple beef stew with potatoes takes just 7-8 hours.
- 1 pound (450g) of beef
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound (450g) of baby red potatoes
- 4 carrots
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 3 cups of beef broth
- 2 tbsp of tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp each of thyme, rosemary, paprika, and caraway seeds
How to cook:
- Place oil in the slow cooker pot and bring it to heat.
- Chop the beef into cubes, add salt and pepper, and brown it in a separate pan.
- Dice the baby red potatoes, slice the carrots, dice the onion, and mince the garlic. Add these and the beef to the pot of the slow cooker.
- Cover the ingredients with beef broth, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, and the spices.
- Put the lid on and cook for 7-8 hours on low heat for 3-4 hours on high heat.
Mashed potatoes are a great accompaniment to a BBQ or fried chicken, but it’s not commonly known that you can make them in a slow cooker. You can cook mashed potatoes in a slow cooker in just 4 hours.
- 4 pounds (2kg) of potatoes
- 1.5 cups of butter
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tbsp of salt
- 1 tsp of pepper
- 1.5 cups of warm milk
How to cook:
- Peel and dice the potatoes.
- Add them to the slow cooker pot with butter, water, salt, and pepper.
- Put the lid on, switch the cooker to the high setting, and leave it for 4 hours.
- Add warm milk and mash with a masher.
Yes, it is possible to roast potatoes without an oven. With these simple instructions, you can roast baby potatoes in 4 hours.
- 1.5 pounds (680g) of baby potatoes
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dill
- ¼ tsp pepper
How to cook:
- Clean the baby potatoes and dry them.
- Add them to the slow cooker pot with olive oil, salt, dill, and pepper.
- Place the lid on top and cook for 4 hours on the high setting.
Using a slow cooker allows you to bake your potatoes without making your whole kitchen hot. It takes just hours.
How to cook:
- Use a fork to make holes in the potatoes.
- Cover the skin with olive oil and add a pinch of salt.
- Cover the potatoes in aluminum foil and put them in the slow cooker pot.
- Set the slow cooker to high and cook for 4.5-5 hours.
Potatoes do soften in a slow cooker. As long as the temperature setting is high enough to get to a boil and maintain it for a few hours, the potato’s cellular structure will break down. This allows it to soften and cook.
You can use a slow cooker to boil potatoes in a classic stew or experiment with mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or even roast potatoes. Happy cooking!
- HowStuffWorks: How Slow Cookers Work
- Wikipedia: Condensation
- Fine Cooking: The Science of Cooking Potatoes
- Food Crumbles: The Science of Cooking Potatoes
- Food and Agriculture Association: Potatoes, nutrition, and diet
- Royal Society of Chemistry: Cooking potatoes
- Wikipedia: Starch
- Wikipedia: Vacuole
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Starch Swelling Pressure of Cooked Potatoes
- ThermoWorks: Temperature Tips for Cooking Potatoes
- Cooking Clarified: Mealy vs Waxy Potatoes
- Damn Delicious: Slow Cooker Beef Stew
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