Slow Cook Crazy

I am not a food blogger, although I do make frequent forays into posts on cooking. In general,  you takes your chances when you use my cooking posts as an actual guide. However, I do pride myself on including factoids, trivia and various ephemera that you will seldom find on the posts of REAL food bloggers. For instance, there was that time I tried to lead readers step by step through making Beet and Orange Relish but kept getting sidetracked on the subject of abused chimps. So be forewarned. Today, I’ll be talking about Chicken Dijonaise as made in the slow cooker.

Let me just tell you, I’m a big fan of the slow cooker. But then I’m a fan of a lot of cooking devices that have fallen out of favor — like pressure canners and pressure cookers. I’m not sure why the slow cooker causes sneers among so many of my foodie friends. I guess it has something to do with the misconceptions born in the Fifties and Sixties — which in my opinion were some of the darkest times for American cooking — at least if you go by the cooking of my mother and her friends who were all big fans of the Peg Bracken school of “open cans, throw contents over Uncle Ben’s converted rice and hope for the best.” Clearly, I emerged from those years and learned to cook properly. In fact, my brother and I learned to cook very early, possibly as a survival mechanism.

Still, I retained my love of the slow cooker, probably because I understand what it does and doesn’t do. It doesn’t necessarily make cooking any faster. Contrary to what Peg Bracken might tell you, there is no decent slow cooker recipe that involves just dumping ingredients in the pot and covering. That will get you a stewed tasteless mess in almost every instance. Slow cooking still requires attention to every ingredient. That means browning meat, sauteeing things like garlic and mushrooms, deglazing pans and sometimes thickening and whisking the liquid into gravy after the cooking is done. What the slow cooker does do is take away the time spent hovering over the stove. So, you can do your cooking early in the morning, get the slow cooker going, then pick and crush half a vineyard of Cabernet before coming back to a lovely warm cassoulet eight hours later. (And Cousin John says my slow cooker cassoulet is “restaurant quality”.) What’s great about the slow cooker, especially one of the more high tech ones like my Williams-Sonoma model, is that it will automatically go in warming mode when the timed cooking is done. So if you are still washing down wine presses when the cassoulet is done, it won’t be ruined by the time you get to it.

So for my Chicken Dijonaise recipe, I used Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever by Diane Phillips. I mostly get excellent results from her recipes and I appreciate the tips and techniques she includes with every recipe that are especially geared to maximizing the good effects of the slow cooker.

Did you know “schmaltz” is the Yiddish word for rendered chicken skin, which is a key ingredient in Jewish cooking? You can imagine how schmaltzy came to be a term for anything excessively sentimental in a homey, nostalgic sort of way. Now would Martha Stewart tell you something like that?

Ingredients

3 to 4 lbs chicken parts

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 ounces cippolini onions

1 pound button mushrooms

One 16-ounce package frozen artichoke heards, defrosted and quartered

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

2/3 cup Dijon mustard

1 bay leaf

 

But we’ll be having no schmaltz in our Chicken Dijonaise. Because the first and most important step in most slow cooker chicken recipes is to remove and discard the skin. As you might imagine, slow cooked chicken skin is pretty nasty. In fact, with most meat, a good slow cooker recipe would call for trimming all visible fat. That makes most slow cooker versions of recipes relatively low fat, if you care about such things.

Then in successive separate steps, you brown the chicken pieces, sautee the garlic and onions and sautee the mushrooms in that order. So when the chicken is browned, put it on the bottom of your slow cooker, then add the garlic and onions, finally topping with the mushrooms. Although Diane doesn’t say this, I find, with a slow cooker, keeping the meat and the harder ingredients on the bottom and topping with the softer ingredients keeps the latter from getting too mooshy.

Careful layering is one of the tricks to slow cooking. Keep the meat and hard stuff on the bottom and the soft stuff on the top.

Now deglaze the pan with the wine or vermouth, scraping up the brown bits and pouring that mixture into the slow cooker. Did I mention that you should be using a large cast iron pan for all this? Here’s another archaic piece of cooking equipment of which I’m a huge fan. Calphalon can’t touch the old cast iron skillet. Did you know that in New England, a cast iron skillet, which almost always had a companion cast iron trivet to set it on, is called a spider because, as it sat on the trivet, it looked kind of like a large cast iron spider. Or “spidah” as my Vermont grandmother would pronounce it. Now would Pioneer Woman tell you that?

By the way, somewhere between sauteeing and removing the garlic and onions and adding the mushrooms, I threw in a lump of butter. Because, what the hell, it’s almost Christmas.

Now you put the broth and mustard in a small bowl and whisk until its creamy.

Screw the French. I use Beaver Dijon from Beaverton Foods in Oregon. It gets serious kudos from foodies and comes in this great squeezy bottle which makes it a lot easier to measure out.

Okay, here’s where we had a little hiccup of the chicken broth variety. This is a home where we cook almost everything with chicken broth and live in constant fear of running out. So every trip to the grocery store involves picking up another box. While shopping for this recipe, I thought, for once, “well, I don’t need to buy any chicken broth because I have loads.” Turns out, this soon after Thanksgiving, all the fresh chicken broth had been used and I had to dig back into the depths of the pantry to find boxes and boxes of expired chicken broth. Including some small packs that had been nibbled by rodents. (Yes, to the eternal shame of the terriers, we always get a few mice who sneak in when the rains flood them out of the back yard.)

All this expired chicken broth had to be poured out. So the moral, I suppose, is always buy chicken broth on every grocery trip.

Now about those artichoke hearts. Despite living close to the self professed Artichoke Capitol of the World (Castroville, CA down south of us), I almost never see fresh artichoke hearts. Or maybe no one is going to peel and prepare them for me and I should be buying loads of artichokes — which I do see — and prep them myself. But I chose the cheaters’ way and got canned artichokes. Diane recommends that with canned, you don’t add them until 2 hours into the cooking time or else they’ll disintegrate. Will do.

Now is the point where you can put the lid on the cooker, and cook on low for 4 or 5 hours. The reason cooking times are so vague is that every slow cooker has different heating levels. In general, the cheaper the cooker, the less evenly it will cook and the longer it might take. The more expensive the cooker, the more spot on the cooking will be and generally will be accomplished at the lower end of the cooking range. In general, I’d suggest setting for the lower cooking time and then making a determination at the end whether you need more cooking time. But then I would also recommend splashing out for a really good slow cooker. It’s well worth it.

Oh, and another good thing about the slow cooker: it lets you clean up the kitchen while everything is slow cooking away, so you aren’t rushed and harried when the guests arrive. You also have time to drink the rest of that wine you opened for the recipe.

So this post should end with lovely shots of people enjoying the finished product. You’ll just have to take it from me that they did. Some people even had seconds.

It’s more challenging to get a picture of a wiggly Goddaughter and two terriers (one of whom escaped from the whole picture) in front of a Christmas tree trimmed by a three year old.

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Author: Lisa

Although I'd like to think of myself as a rootin', tootin', wine-makin' cowgirl, I currently only live in Sonoma part-time. Mostly I'm on freeways between San Jose, San Francisco and Sonoma. With two yapping terriers in crates behind me. We try to enjoy all three places and points in between. Which will explain why my post subjects are all over the map.

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3 Comments

  1. Hysterical! Your mom and my mom cooked the same. Beyuck! Nonetheless, it inspired me to be able to cook better and my children are pretty awesome in the kitchen. Crockpots rock. The entire house is filled with luscious scents.

  2. Andy calls it “Early Men’s Room, Paddington Station”. We have it in our upstairs guest bathroom, too.

  3. Love your kitchen tile! Our house was built in 1922 and our original downstairs bathroom (now assigned to the Teenager) has that wonderful tile! Here in the south, it’s referred to as “subway” tile. I don’t know if it’s called that in other places, but it’s beautiful.

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