A slow-cooked chilli forms the base for many super-fun party foods (All photos: Malcolm Campbell)

Slow cook your way to party perfection

Forget the barbie – with these slow-cooker ideas, all the work’s done ahead of time, leaving you to swan around and mingle.

I know that a bunch of yobbos in tasteless Hawaiian shirts huddled around the barbecue pretending to know what they are doing is a quintessential part of any Kiwi summer, but my faith in the humble barbie has been marred by one too many undercooked chicken drummies and sizzlers that have been blackened beyond recognition.

The grill is a great place to add some char to summer vegetables, but when it comes to meat and entertaining I’m all about the long, slow cook. Shredded lamb, pulled pork or a slow-cooked chilli form the base for many super-fun party foods and all the work is done ahead, so you won’t be sweating in front of a hot oven while your friends soak up the rays. I know most of you have already relegated the slow cooker to the back of that weird cupboard in your kitchen where you keep the muffin tins and the jaffle maker you never use, but I encourage you to fish it out and use it as a sort of bain-marie to set up a buffet for a fuss-free fiesta.

Set up a station with your meat surrounded by all the necessary accoutrements and let people have at it

All meats benefit from the browning effect of being cooked in an actual oven, so cook whatever it is you are serving – pork shoulder, beef brisket, chicken thigh – as you normally would in your oven the day before your party. Cool it, shred it and pop it in the slow-cooker dish and in the fridge overnight. A couple of hours before your party, all you have to do is turn the slow cooker on, allow it to reheat and stay at temperature until you need it. Set up a station with your meat surrounded by all the necessary accoutrements and let people have at it – leaving you free to swan around mingle.

Some of my favourite summer slow-cooker ideas are pulled pork shoulder or shredded beef brisket tossed with barbecue sauce, served up with a bunch of buns, pickles, various mustards and buttermilk slaw. Chicken thigh braised in a chipotle sauce then shredded and served with tacos, guacamole, salsa and jalapeños. Lamb shoulder cooked in Middle Eastern spices and served with herby yoghurt, jazzed-up dips, pink pickles, shredded red cabbage, fresh tomatoes and warm flatbreads for a DIY kebab situation. Or, whip up a giant pot of slow-simmered beef chilli for what I am now calling “my famous nachos”.

MY FAMOUS NACHOS

Serves about 15

Chilli is always better the next day, so make this the day before, allow it to cool and put it in your slow cooker dish in the fridge. When it’s time to serve, heat it up in the slow cooker, surround with toppings and corn chips and let people build their own plate of nachos however they damn well please.

For the chilli

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon each of chilli powder, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander, black pepper
  • 2 cups (500ml) beef stock
  • 2 chipotle chillies in adobo, minced
  • 2 x 400g cans tomatoes
  • 2 x 400g cans kidney beans, drained

For the nacho toppings  

  • very finely diced white onion
  • shredded cheddar
  • sliced spring onions
  • jalapeños
  • coriander
  • sour cream
  • 4-6 bags of plain corn chips

Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the beef mince in batches, browning it well and breaking it up in to small clumps as you go. When cooked through and crispy, remove to a plate on the side and continue until all the beef is cooked.

Reduce the heat to medium then add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent.

Add the tomato paste, salt and all the spices and cook for about two minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go.

Add the browned mince back to the pot along with the beef stock, chipotle chillies and canned tomatoes. Stir well and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat down, cover and allow to simmer gently for at least two hours, until the liquid has reduced and you have a rich, chunky chilli.

Add the drained kidney beans and cook for another half hour with the lid off.

Cool and store in the slow-cooker dish in the fridge overnight.

To serve, take the chilli out of the fridge, pop it in the slow cooker and turn it on to heat it. Arrange diced white onion, shredded cheddar, sliced spring onions, jalapeños, coriander, sour cream and corn chips in bowls alongside the chilli.

For more ingenious summer entertaining tips, check out the rest of the Backyard Bash 101 series


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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