Recipe: Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

After a recent post on storing your slow cooker, one reader asked why we didn’t include any ideas for using a slow cooker.  So here is one from Lauren, our long time volunteer adviser and the class assistant in our New Kitchen Cooking School.  I had always slow cooked chicken by submerging it in water and cooking on low for 8 to 10 hours–essentially poaching it.  Then Lauren shared her method which essentially roasts the chicken. Guaranteed good results–and ridiculously simple:

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

Step 1:  Plop Bird into Slow Cooker, Breast Side Down

Picture of Slow Cooker Chicken

Keeping the breast down helps it stay moister.  The wide, shallow style slow cooker is better for roasting since it allows more air circulation around the bird, although the tall narrow style can work, too.

Step 2: Season Chicken

You can be fairly generous with the salt and especially the pepper.  If you want, be creative and toss on some herbs or spices, e.g., Herbes de Provence, Italian Herbs, a Moroccan rub . . . .

Step 3:  Cover and Cook on High ~ 3 Hours

Slow Cooker Chicken

Timing is where things can be a little tricky, because of differences in cookers and bird sizes. So start monitoring after two hours, until you learn the right timing for your slow cooker and usual bird size.

Step 4:  Uncover and Cook on High ~ 1 More Hour

Browned Slow Cooker Chicken

Even covered, the bird browns and crisps fairly well. Now, in an unusual twist, leave the cover off another hour to brown even a little more. Be sure to leave the temperature on high.

Step 5:  Baste Every 15 Minutes (optional, but really adds flavor and moistness)

Basting Chicken

Basting is what makes the chicken taste more like those succulent rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. I just baste as I pass by the chicken while doing things around the house, or while preparing the rest of the meal. IMPORTANT: Before serving, test the chicken for doneness (see Note below.)

Step 6:  Use the pan juices to make a delicious sauce, e.g., with just a little grainy mustard and Herbes de Provence, maybe a little wine.  Try making it in the slow cooker, but if it’s too slow, scrape everything into a small skillet or saucepan.

Fair Question:  Why not use the oven?   I prefer the slow cooker because of the “tolerance” and “visibility” factors.  While an oven doesn’t exactly speed cook foods, the window between not quite done and overdone may be only 10 to 15  minutes.  Outside that narrow window, the chicken gets tough and dry, something I’ve experienced plenty of times because I’m not one to stand guard over food.  With a slow cooker that window is much longer, maybe 30 to 60 minutes.  And even if I go past that window, there’s a good chance the chicken will still be pretty good.  It’s hard to ruin a dish completely in a slow cooker unless you completely forget about it.  At the same time, it’s easier to monitor a chicken in a slow cooker sitting on the counter than one buried in a hot oven in a heavy pot.

Note on Doneness:  According to Joy of Cooking, chicken must be cooked to the point where the meat releases clear, not pink, juices when pricked to the bone with a fork.  This correlates with an internal temperature of 170 (F) on an instant-read thermometer.  However, for the breast meat, doneness is reached at an internal temperature of 160 (F).  I usually slice between the thigh and torso of the chicken to see that the juices run clear and the meat is no longer red.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin

Cooking vegetables gratin-style is a delicious option–in the winter. Because a gratin is baked an hour or so, it’s tough to even think about making one in the heat of summer. Hence the slow cooker version in this recipe. Of course in cooler weather, you can also bake this dish at 350 (F) for an hour or so.

Although kohlrabi has been at the markets lately, with the arrival of August’s hot temperatures, this cooler weather crop may disappear for a while.  However, it frequently reappears in autumn, so keep this recipe handy.

For tips on peeling and cutting a kohlrabi, see the next post.

Serves 2

Step 1 Lightly Saute Onions

  • 1 med. red onion, sliced into strips about ¼” x 2” (or 1 cup sliced green parts of fresh onions)
  • ½ Tbsp. butter

In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat butter over medium heat until lightly sizzling. Add onions and saute, just until lightly browned (about 5 minutes.)

Kohlrabi

See the next post for instructions on quickly cutting matchsticks or, for a more traditional style gratin, quarter and slice kohlrabi thinly.

Step 2 Combine and Cook

  • ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 2 medium kohlrabi (about 3 to 4” in diameter), cut into ¼” matchsticks (or thinly sliced and halved)
  • 1 cup milk or unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Grease a 3 to 5 qt. round slow cooker with butter, then add and stir together sauteed onion, kohlrabi, milk and salt and pepper. (Reserve onion pan for making breadcrumbs.)

Slow cook gratin a total of 6 to 8 hours as follows: Begin by covering slow cooker and cooking gratin on high for 2 to 3 hours until simmering vigorously, stirring occasionally. Once mixture is simmering well and kohlrabi has begun to soften, remove lid and continue cooking until most of liquid is evaporated–about 2 to 3 more hours, stirring occasionally.*  Then reduce heat to low and re-cover with lid and continue cooking until vegetables are cooked to taste, about another 1 to 2 hours.

Step 3 Toast Breadcrumbs and Serve

  • ½ Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. dried breadcrumbs

In pan used for sauteing onions, melt butter over medium heat, then sprinkle crumbs evenly across bottom of pan. Cook, stirring every minute or two, until crumbs are lightly browned and crispy. About 30 minutes before serving, return slow cooker to high and sprinkle evenly with prepared crumbs. Continue cooking, uncovered, for the last 30 minutes. Serve with optional garnishes.

Optional Garnishes

  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

* Note:  cooking the dish uncovered allows moisture to evaporate, so the gratin comes out more like a baked dish than the kind of soupier dish that normal slow cooking produces.  While this means this isn’t a dish to fix and forget all day, the result is well worth the small amount of extra attention required.

Dried Beans–More Cooking Tips

Shelled beans at Abbondanza Farms.

Shelled beans at Abbondanza Farms

An earlier post explained several ways to cook dried beans.  While desk cleaning recently, I ran across an article with more bean-cooking tips.  It’s by John Broening, the owner of several seasonal and local restaurants in Denver and long-time Denver Post columnist.  I love John’s informative and down-to-earth articles, like “Winter Beans,”* where he sings the praises of his favorite comfort food, dried beans.  Along the way he shares two cooking nuggets:

  1. First, it may seem that dried beans are indestructible, and indeed they do have the advantage of a long shelf life.  But John notes that older beans have longer cooking times.  I’ve also found their flavor begins to diminish over time.  Of course it’s perfectly safe to eat beans that are a year or two old–no need to pitch them–but see if you can use them up in a year.  Not only does that artificial deadline  ensure better beans.  It will also inspire you to get more healthful beans into your meals–starting now!
  2. Secondly, John notes that our altitude makes stove top or oven cooking more difficult.  “Beans at altitude take twice as long to soften as they do at sea level and tend to cook unevenly.”  I’ve certainly found this to be true when cooking beans on the stove top.  Maybe that’s why a lot of people resort to canned beans.  Happily, I’ve not noticed this problem when cooking beans in the slow cooker, although I do have to use the “high” setting.

An electric pressure cooking is John’s solution for the altitude problem.  I’ve never used one, so let us know if you have experience to share on this point.  And in the meantime, give your slow cooker a try.  Although canned beans are perfectly fine, you’ll be amazed to see how flavorful beans can be when home-cooked.  No wonder John views them as the ultimate comfort food!

P.S. Why not make a bean dish tonight:  a white bean soup with kale, a red bean enchilada casserole, black bean burgers, garbanzo bean hummus. . . . There are so many options!

*from Edible Front Range, Winter 2009, p. 43

“Accelerated” Slow Cooker Beans

We love slow cookers, but sometimes they they can be a little too slow (or we can be a little too late!)  Yesterday, for example, I was presenting “How Can You Tell If You’re Eating Well.”  It’s a fun talk about “eating close to the earth” and how that simple approach makes it easy to know if you’re eating well.

Anyway, at the end of the talk I planned to demo a fast, “eating close to the earth” dish using slow cooker black beans.  But while fixing my morning cup of tea, I realized that I’d forgotten to soak the beans the night before, so they could slow cook all day, and be done just in time for my evening class.  As I poured the water over my Earl Grey leaves, I watched my carefully laid plans collapse.  What do I do now?

Innovate.   Fortunately, a bolt of inspiration struck and left behind a formula for  “Accelerated Slow Cooker Beans:”

8:48 a.m.  Put quart of water on to boil on biggest burner on highest heat (with the lid on because that makes it boil faster, too)

8:49 a.m.  Measure out 1  1/2 cups black beans, pour on a plate and pick out dirt clods and bad beans (my beans come straight from a local farm, so they take a couple extra prep minutes, but the taste is well worth it.)

Sorting Black Beans:  Pour into a pile on one side of plate.  Working in small batches, push into a pile on other side of plate

Sorting Black Beans: Pour into a pile on left side of plate. Working in small batches, push to right side of plate, pulling out bad beans, small stones or dirt clods like the one in center of plate.

8:52 a.m.  Pour cleaned beans in slow cooker.  Water is now boiling so pour it in.  Cover and turn to high heat.

1:00 p.m.  Beans have already begun to soften, the same as if they had soaked all night, so I drain them, return them to pot and put another quart of water on to boil.

1:05 p.m.  Second round of water is boiling.  Pour over drained beans in slow cooker, cover and return heat to high.

5:00 p.m.  Return from appointment to find that beans are perfectly cooked–just a little on the soft side, how I love them.

Moral of the Story:  “Slow” cooker beans are possible in just 8 hours instead of 24.

Add salt at the end and that easily (and cheaply) you’ve got a dish fit for a healthy-eating king.

I’m always amazed at how good beans taste when cooked from scratch in a slow cooker.  Canned beans are perfectly fine, but I’m always nagging people to experiment with fresh-cooked–just once (’cause you’ll be hooked).  Experiment with this accelerated method or, if your brain works at night use the more leisurely method and put the beans on to soak the night before.  You can read more about the leisurely method in a previous post:  “How to Cook Dried Beans?

Comfort Stew: Beef Daube Provencal

Recipe for Beef Daube Provencal

This is the slow cooker version.  See the notes below if you prefer to make it stovetop, as I did.
What to have with this stew?  I was hankering for mashed potatoes, which is why I cooked the stew on the stovetop.  That freed up the slow cooker for my famous Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes.  Write me for the recipe , if you’d like.
By the way, this makes a big stew, easily enough for two days, since it always taste better as leftovers and you might as well get a time-free meal one night!  The second night I’ll probably serve it over brown rice with a little cabbage slaw.  Read how to make dishes like this A Bright Spot in troubled times.

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 lbs. stew meat, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-2” cubes (use more or less, depending on your liking for meat)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed saute pan until hot but not smoking.  Sprinkle beef cubes with salt and pepper, and then place carefully in hot oil in a single layer.  With heat on medium high, brown sides of cubes quickly, turning with a fork or small spatula to brown most of the sides.  As soon as a cube is browned (maybe 2-3 minutes total), drop into slow cooker.

  • 2 med. yellow onions, diced to about ½”
  • 12 whole garlic cloves (about 1 head), chopped roughly
  • 4-6 stalks celery, dilced to about ½”
  • 8 oz. mushrooms (or 2 large portabellas), sliced about ¼” thick (optional)
  • 6-8 med. carrots, sliced about ¼” thick

Once the meat is browned and removed from saute pan, reduce heat to medium and add onion, stirring to scrape any bits of meat from bottom of pan.  Cook onion a few minutes, then stir in celery and cook a couple minutes more, then stir in garlic and cook just 1-2 minutes, then quickly stir in mushrooms, if using, and cook a few more minutes. Stir in carrots then remove all vegetables to slow cooker.

  • ½ c. chicken or beef broth
  • ½-1 cup red wine
  • 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2-3 tsp. minced fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried rosemary leaves, crushed)
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme (or 2 tsp. dried leaf thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 dashes ground cloves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Once vegetables are removed from saute pan, reduce heat to low , add broth and deglaze pan, which means scraping the bottom of pan with your spatula to loosen any remaining browned bits.  Add wine, tomatoes, tomato paste and spices, stir until everything is thoroughly combined, then pour carefully into slow cooker and stir again to combine the liquid, vegetables and meat.

Cover and cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8 hours.  Before serving, taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

What I did differently

Recipes are always just a starting point.  It’s good to make them once as written, so you have a point of reference.  Then you can innovate for fun or, as is more often the case for me, you can adapt to work with whatever you have on hand and need to use up!

  1. Mushrooms I didn’t have any and wasn’t going to make a trip to the store just to get some.  So I omitted.
  2. Bacon To make up for the lost flavor of the mushrooms, I chopped up (just two) strips of bacon, cooked it slowly to render its fat and used that to brown the stew meat, instead of olive oil.  Not quite as healthy, I know, but it’s a small and occasional thing!
  3. Stovetop Cooking Once the vegetables were sauteed, I returned the meat to the saute pan (I had removed the browned pieces to a bowl), then stirred in everything else.  I have a BIG saute pan which can double as a stew pot.  If yours isn’t big enough, transfer everything to a heavy bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven.  If your pans aren’t heavy-bottomed, be sure to stir the stew frequently so it doesn’t burn as it simmers.  Stovetop cooking also benefits from more liquid, so I used 2 cups of broth, rather than just ½ cup.  This also made a nice gravy to put over the mashed potatoes.
  4. Wine Speaking of liquids, I only had a ¼ cup of red wine, so I used up some leftover white to make ½ cup.

Cooking School

  1. “Draining” Stew Meat Before browning the beef cubes, place in a colander and press out any remaining blood that would likely splatter and impede browning.  This is also a good time to sprinkle with salt and pepper and then toss to coat the meat cubes  evenly.
  2. Brown Don’t Steam It’s important that beef browns, and doesn’t steam or simmer in the first step.  That’s why it needs to be in a single layer.  So if you have more than one layer of beef cubes, brown them in two batches.
  3. Be Quick Browning beef cubes is a QUICK process.  Overcooking the little guys on high heat makes them tough and chewy.  So don’t let them cook much further than the surface level. before removing them to the slow cooker.  In other words, you should probably focus on just browning the meat, not doing three other things while the meat browns!
  4. Cleaning Up a Burn Hopefully, none of your stew meat burns instead of browns, so you can just add the onions to the saute pan after removing all the meat.  BUT, if your meat cubes have the audacity to burn, first pour in a cup or so of water, scrape them up and discard.  Reheat the pan and add another tablespoon of olive oil to before cooking the onions.
  5. Gentle with the Garlic Garlic can burn easily and then it tastes awful.  So only let it cook a couple minutes, really, then quickly stir in the next ingredient, which will cool things off and prevent the garlic from burning.
  6. Tomato Paste Trick Remember that extra tomato paste can be stored in the freezer.  Freeze in ice cube trays, or just spoonfuls on waxed paper, then place the frozen portions into a zippered freezer storage bag and you’re ready the next time you need just a tablespoon or two.
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