‘Defrost and dump’: slow cooker recipes for the time-poor

One of our favourite ways of utilising our precious time is to make a meal fresh and prep a freezer bag of uncooked ingredients at the same time.

For example, while making Mongolian lamb for dinner, you can also make a bag of the uncooked marinade and freeze it. So when you know that you won’t have time to cook, you can defrost and dump the freezer bag into the slow cooker with little to no other prep.

While slow cooking takes many hours, it requires only a small amount of preparation time earlier in the day. Plus, cooking meat, vegetables and sauce all in one pot – like these recipes below – significantly cuts down on the washing up.

How to defrost a dump bag
Defrosting foods safely is as important as safely preparing your foods.

Remove your dump bag or leftovers from your freezer and place them in the fridge the day before you plan to cook them, at a temperature lower than 5C. Ensure the contents have fully defrosted before cooking.
Fruits and veggies can be prepared and cooked from a frozen state, while raw meat should always be thoroughly defrosted before cooking.
Keep defrosted food in the fridge, for no longer than 24 hours, until you are ready to cook or reheat it. If you are reheating leftovers or defrosted frozen meals in the microwave or on the stovetop, stir intermittently to ensure they have been reheated appropriately and evenly.
If you have cooked frozen pies, lasagnes or pasta bakes from the freezer, ensure the middle has cooked thoroughly and to an appropriate temperature – you may need to allow more cooking time than you would if cooking them fresh.
Never leave food to defrost on the kitchen bench or sink or anywhere other than in your fridge. Outer layers of the food can warm up quickly and breed harmful bacteria.
Mongolian lamb
We suggest using more affordable lamb shank meat when it is readily available. As this meal is gently slow cooked you can try different meats with equally good results: chicken thighs, beef rump or sirloin, or even pumpkin for a vegetarian option.

Prep 10 min
Cook 3 hrs
Serves 4 (plus a dump bag for the freezer)

500g lamb shank meat, cut into 2cm strips
2 tbsp cornflour
¼ tsp Chinese five spice
1 brown onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 spring onions, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
2 tbsp salt-reduced soy sauce
60ml hoisin sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or mirin
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp sesame oil (optional)
Steamed brown rice (or rice of your choice), to serve
Steamed Asian greens, to serve
Toasted sesame seeds, to serve (optional)

Place the sliced lamb in the bowl of a slow cooker. Sprinkle over the cornflour and Chinese five spice and toss to coat. Add all other ingredients except the sesame oil. Pour over 180ml water and stir to combine the ingredients and submerge the meat.

Cover and cook on low for three hours. Check the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened, and cook for a further 30 minutes if required. Stir through the sesame oil if desired.

Serve with rice and steamed vegetables, and sprinkle with sliced spring onions and toasted sesame seeds if desired.

To make a dump bag, double your ingredients and place half of them in an airtight container or freezer bag with air expelled. Freeze for up to two months, thaw when needed, and follow the recipe from the first step to cook. Leftover Mongolian lamb can be kept in the fridge for up to two days, or individual portions frozen in airtight containers for up to two months.

Butter chicken
Prep 25 min
Cook 2-4 hrs (depending on slow cooker setting)
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp tomato paste (with no added salt)
200g passata
270ml tin coconut milk or cream
1kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2.5cm pieces

For the onion and spice mix (halve the ingredients if preparing only the fresh version and not the dump bag)
80g ghee
2 small brown onions, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
5cm piece ginger, finely grated
1½ tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground turmeric
3 tsp paprika
3 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (or a mild chilli powder), to taste (optional)
1 tsp salt (optional)

Extra dump bag ingredients
1 tbsp tomato paste (with no added salt)
200g passata
270ml tin coconut milk or cream
1kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2.5cm pieces

To serve
2 tbsp lemon or lime juice (optional)
Basmati rice, naan or roti
Greek-style yoghurt (optional)
Steamed green vegetables

For the onion and spice mix, melt the ghee in a heavy-based saucepan over medium–low heat. Add the onion and sauté for five minutes or until softened, being careful not to brown too much. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for a further minute.

Add all the spices, and salt, if using, along with 125ml water to the saucepan and stir for three to five minutes until fragrant and the mixture resembles a paste. Lower the heat and add a touch more water if the spices start to burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

Transfer half the mixture into a slow cooker. Set the remaining onion and spice mixture aside to prepare the dump bag.

Add the tomato paste, passata, coconut milk or cream and chicken to the slow cooker and mix well. Cover and cook on low for four hours, or on high for two hours.

Turn off the heat, stir through the lemon or lime juice (if using) and serve with basmati rice, naan or roti, yoghurt and some steamed greens.

To make a dump bag, place the reserved onion and spice mixture and the dump bag ingredients in an airtight container or freezer bag with air expelled. Freeze for up to two months. You can freeze this without the chicken, to add fresh when ready to cook your prepared dump bag. To cook, add the entire dump bag contents into the bowl of the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for four hours, or high for two hours.

Leftover cooked curry can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days, or frozen for up to two months.