When you think of slow cookers you might imagine stews cooking for eight hours or your grandparents’ vintage version from the Fifties. But the classic (and thankfully updated) appliance is having a resurgence – and going seriously viral.
TV chef, cookbook author and content creator, Nathan Anthony knows a thing or two about using the slow cooker in interesting ways. His Instagram, Facebook and TikTok accounts, @boredoflunch have blown up with easy meal ideas to make in both slow cookers and air fryers. Simply sticking a Camembert in an air fryer got 100 million views, and his Thai mango chicken curry in a slow cooker earned up 50 million.
So why is slow cooking suddenly so popular again? “You literally load it up and go,” says the 33-year-old from Belfast. “If you have a busy nine-to-five, or you have kids, [if you want to] meal prep, plan ahead, they’re healthier as you don’t need to use oil in them.”
And this style of cooking could save you lots of cash, he reckons, too. “They’re better for your energy [usage] as well, they run pretty much on a light bulb’s energy, so people are saving an awful lot of money when they’re cooking their meals in them.” The initial outlay isn’t much either. “You can get some for £20 or £25 on Amazon and they last a lifetime – they’re very inexpensive, they’re very durable.”
Plus, really filling them up and batch cooking for other days can be a lifesaver when it comes to counting the pennies in January, and beyond, and saving time spent in the kitchen.
“Working habits and lifestyle in the office has changed, people are working from home more,” notes Anthony, a regular on ITV’s This Morning and Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch, and this means we’re all around more to throw ingredients together earlier in the day, to bubble away and be ready to eat at dinner time.
Who wants to waste time standing and stirring? “My followers absolutely love slow cooker recipes, it just makes life easier for people.
“My granny always had one but now we’ve seen a huge surge in students and people who just want really simple easy recipes – there’s been certain times of the year where we’ve seen a massive uplift in terms of sales around Freshers’ Week.”
His third cookbook, Bored of Lunch: Healthy Slow Cooker, Even Easier, seeks to prove just how quick and simple lots of nutritious meals can be to prepare – the ethos being, just five minutes prep and under 500 calories a portion. The pea and mint soup, for example, doesn’t even involve much chopping before throwing it all in the slow cooker and clicking the ‘on’ button. The Irish farmhouse chicken soup is inspired by his mum’s cooking (“It’s just a taste of Ireland and something my mum would have made growing up”) and the chorizo and seafood chowder is a nod to the amazing seafood available on the coasts of Northern Ireland.
And he wants to challenge what people think a slow cooker can do. There’s chicken pad Thai, sticky whisky BBQ ribs and mussels with nduja in a creamy sauce. Even baking isn’t off limits; Anthony’s no-knead olive and rosemary bread couldn’t be more simple, and the chocolate and peanut butter lava cake looks delicious for when you want a bit of balance to your healthier diet this January.
Anthony didn’t actually cook himself until university. “I’ve just been around good home cooks my whole life. I think Irish people are traditionally really good home cooks and I have some phenomenal cooks in the family – my auntie was a chef in New York, my granny is a phenomenal cook, my mum is a great cook as well. I’d always watch them. (His mum, he says, had all boys and would never let them cook, “She always said you’ll burn the house down – I’m doing it!”).
At university, he surprised his housemates with how natural a cook he was – and both a slow cooker and an air fryer featured heavily in his student days (“When you’re living with six people, everyone’s fighting over the hob”). After that, and into his corporate career, it just stuck.
It was in lockdown that Anthony started posting dishes online and by the end of the pandemic, he had 30,000 followers on Instagram. Six months later it was 100,000. “It started to multiply at a scary rate. This time last year on I had about 900,000 followers. Since Christmas last year, there’s now another million on Instagram alone,” he says.
In June 2023, he left his senior management job to focus on his new-found food career. “I really didn’t want to leave, I loved it, loved my team. I just thought I’d write two cookbooks [Bored of Lunch: The Healthy Airfyer Book and Bored of Lunch: The Healthy Slow Cooker Book] and be like, ‘Wow, what a cool thing to do’.” But he hadn’t predicted the books’ success.
“So my life is is totally different to what it was before – I feel like I’m living someone else’s life a lot of the time to be honest!”
For anyone who wants to pay closer attention to calories, each recipe in the new book “politely” states them. “I’ve always calorie counted just because I’m in to my fitness, it works for me and these recipes fit around my nutritional goals and needs as well. But theres a real degree of healthy balance, you can have a pie on a Wednesday, then a lighter meal like tomato arrabbiata the next day – I’m not a fan of restricting.”
So what are his tips for slow cooking success?
“One of the things that I always say is that I would typically load it the night before and just put the pot in the fridge, or put it in a freezer bag, and then just load the slow cooker in the morning so you don’t have to get up in the morning start chopping onions – it can all be done the night before,” he says.
If you’re cooking meat, cut the chunks roughly the same size, so you get a consistent cook. Less may be more when it comes to spice, because cooking low and slow means flavours infuse more intensely than other cooking methods. And always add less liquid or stock than you think you need, ‘It’s difficult to take away extra or to thicken larger quantities of liquid,’ he notes in the book.
Adjust the setting – fast or slow – to how your day is looking too. “If you’re working from home you can pop it on at lunchtime and it will take three to four hours, or if you’re out all day you can put it all in the morning on a low temperature for seven to eight hours.”
Bored Of Lunch: Healthy Slow Cooker Even Easier by Nathan Anthony is published by Ebury Press, priced £20. Photography by Dan Jones