Thursday, September 1, 2011

slow-cooked chicken

I love so many things about the return of fall, and though the temperatures where I live do not give us a hint, at least the calendar does. One of my favorite methods of cooking, one that fits right into the mood of autumn, is braising---braising almost anything. Roasting runs a close second, I must admit, and more on that very soon.

sauteed vegetables add flavor to lots of braised dishes

Braising fills the house with wonderful aromas for hours and hours. It's my favorite thing to do on slow weekend days as the temperatures begin to drop. Almost as nice, and better for working weekdays, is the crock pot. I remember when crock pots, like fondue sets, were the stuff of jokes about overdone and never used wedding presents. Thankfully, both have had quite the comeback in recent years. Many recipes can easily go back and forth, from stovetop to crock pot or even into the oven depending on what we want to do at the time.

Carrie, at Ginger Lemon Girl, recently asked in a FaceBook post about people's favorite chicken recipes for the crock pot. Carrie bakes a lot, and I love to read her recipes and posts, as well as enjoy all her pictures of great food, though I, myself, am not much of a baker. But, now she's really speaking my language. Rather than fill her page with a miriad of chicken recipes and ideas, I decided to include them here.

So many chickens, so little time. What's not to like about chicken in the crock pot? It's versitle, it's inexpensive, it's quick, it's easy. Oh yeah, sometimes it's really dry. Chicken breasts will tend to dry out because they cook much more quickly since they have less fat within the muscle. For some it's a hard sell, but I recommend trying chicken thighs instead of breasts when cooking individual pieces in the crock pot. This applies to most braised and roasted recipes, as well. Stop grimmacing; try them at least once. Whole chickens also work well with attention to timing, as do whole legs.

Many of my recipes begin with diced onions and sliced mushrooms, too many my daughter would surely contend.

Crock Pot Chicken Methodology
A basic crock pot method is much more valuable than an individual recipe because, once mastered, it becomes dozens upon dozens of different dishes. One need only change an ingredient or two or three, and the dish is completely tranformed. We'll start with that and go on to many, many possibilities. Most will include vegetables with the chicken. If you have time to saute them before adding them to the crock pot, you'll enjoy additional depth of flavor. If not, they're still darned good.

I use a fairly large crock pot usually, though this method is completely adaptable to almost any size, except maybe the gravy boat or the mini crock.

Basic Crock Pot Chicken

1/2 to 1 cup onions, sliced or chopped
3 or 4 garlic cloves, whole, sliced, or chopped
2 carrots, thickly sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons oil (only if you saute vegetables first)
4 to 8 ounces chicken broth, I use Pacific
8 chicken thighs or 1 whole chicken
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
sea salt
black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons sweet rice flour (completely optional.)

If you plan to saute vegetables, do this first in a few tablespoons of olive oil or chicken fat. Coconut oil would also work well here. This step is optional but fun and rewarding if you have the time.
  • Layer ingredients in the crockpot: vegetables first, sprinkle with rice flour if using, add chicken, then tarragon, salt, pepper, and broth. About the rice flour, while I love the way it thickens a dish like this, I don't use grains anymore. I'm still playing with other thickeners but haven't zeroed in on anything.
  • TaDa! Cover and cook. At low heat this should take from 6 to 8 hours. At high heat, four hours should be plenty.
Remember that crock pot temperatures and cooking speeds vary tremendously, so if you know how yours heats, let your experience lead you where time and temp are concerned.

As in any dish, if you know you don't like an ingredient, say tarragon leaves, don't use them. Substitute an herb you do like, thyme is one of my favorites, or leave it out entirely. It'll still be great. My next post will include many, many options for chicken, including chile verde and an Italian-style  with spicy tomato sauce.

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