Recipe Test: Homey Chicken Stew

Technically, I suppose this is as much a book review as it is a recipe test.  I need another cookbook almost as much as I need more quilt patterns.  Nevertheless, this one caught my eye.

While I have slow cooker recipes that I like, my experience is that most things end up tasting overcooked.  Fresh vegetables end up tasting like those from a can and meat is cooked until it's mushy.  There's no doubt that slow cookers are convenient, time-saving wonders, especially for home cooks and parents with full-time jobs (in addition to their other two full-time jobs of parenting and caring for their homes).  No doubt that is why the slow cooker has stood the test of time.

In my family, we happen to like food that is appetizing to look at and that tastes good.  So when I saw this slow cooker cookbook published by the folks at America's Test Kitchen, I had faith that the recipes would be good enough to satisfy our persnickety palates and maybe even good enough to serve guests.  I'm happy to say that the book has not disappointed me.  It is filled with page after page of delicious-looking recipes and beautiful color images.  I like a cookbook with really good images of the food so that I can see what I'm going to end up with before I go to a lot of effort to cook it.

When America's Test Kitchens decided to tackle a slow cooker cookbook, they had s few goals in mind.  They wanted the recipes to taste as good as something cooked on the stove top.  Also, they wanted recipes that required a minimum commitment in up-front prep time and a minimum mess in the kitchen.  The problem with the slow cooker, they note, is that the closed cooking environment doesn't allow for browning or reduction, and those are the elements that develop good flavor in foods.

When we decided to go for a drive yesterday, it seemed like a perfect time to try out one of the many recipes I had bookmarked in my page-by-page preview.  I settled on Homey Chicken Stew.

As with anything I cook in my kitchen, the first step is to give Gracie some kitty treats or resolve to have her under my feet through the entire process.

Moving on, the recipe required browning the chicken ahead of time, but not cooking it through completely.  Also, I browned some onions in the same pan to soften them and added flour to create a nice base for the soup.  Finally, I par-cooked the potatoes and carrots in the microwave so that they would be tender when the rest of the stew was ready to eat.  After that, everything was dumped into the slow cooker and it went to work on its part of the process.  I'm happy to say that the stew was as flavorful and appetizing as the image in the book suggested. 

One thing I have always loved about the slow cooker is how good the house smells when one returns home.  This chicken stew looks as good as it tastes.  It's made with a minimum of salt, and so it's a good choice for those watching their salt intake.  I made just a slight change to the original with the addition of some frozen corn.  Here's the recipe as originally written:

Homey Chicken Stew
Recipe By:  America's Test Kitchen
Servings 6-8

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs -- trimmed
salt and pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil -- divided
2 onions -- minced
1 tablespoon  tomato paste
2 teaspoons  minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/3 cup  all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups  low-sodium chicken broth -- plus extra as needed
12 ounces red potatoes (2-3 medium) -- scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 carrots -- peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Dry chicken with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Brown half of chicken lightly on both sides, 5-8 minutes; transfer to bowl.  Repeat with 1 tablespoon more oil and remaining chicken; transfer to bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon more oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add onions, garlic, tomato paste, and thyme and cook until onions are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes.  Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in wine, scraping up any browned bits.  Whisk in 1 cup broth, smoothing out any lumps; transfer to slow cooker.

Microwave potatoes and carrots with remaining tablespoon oil in covered bowl, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are nearly tender, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.  Stir remaining 3 cups broth and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Nestle browned chicken with any accumulated juice into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours on low.

Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.  Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.

Stir shredded chicken and peas into stew and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes.  (Adjust stew consistency with additional hot broth as needed.)  Stir in parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

My notes about the recipe:  I only used half the amount of oil stated.  The chicken thighs produced plenty of fat on their own, and so I only used 1 tablespoon at the beginning.  Also, I added 1 tablespoon of oil to the vegetables that went into the microwave.  I think any frozen vegetable would be good added into the stew.  It's a good way to rid your freezer of partially used packages.  I had an open package of frozen peas, but it contained only 3/4 cup.  I hated to open another package for such a small amount.  Instead, I added another partially used package of frozen corn, about an additional 3/4 cup.  I liked the color it added.  I wouldn't hesitate to use pretty much any frozen or leftover vegetable you might have hanging around.  Some drained canned diced tomatoes might add some nice color at the end as well.

This stew has everything it needs to be a meal in and of itself.  I would even serve it to guests at a casual get-together.  The broth was especially nice, and so some sort of bread for dunking is a good choice for a side dish.  I used Texas Toast.  Pop it into your toaster oven.  When it dings, dinner is served!

10 comments from clever and witty friends:

Nancy said...

I love America's Test Kitchen!! We get the show on our local PBS channel and I also subscribe to their website.. They have allowed me to really pump up the meals for the two of us... That recipe sounds great!! I'll have to try it..

Snoodles said...

Yum! That looks awesome....I can substitute some rutabaga for the potatoes (for our low carb diet) and this will be great! If I don't have the wine in my pantry, what would you suggest as an alternative?

Loretta said...

It looks sooo delicious Barbara and the toast points with it too! Lov

LynCC said...

Heee - she looks like she's saying, "Have you forgotten my treats?!"

Mrs.Pickles said...

oh wow that looks really tasty!

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

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Susanne said...

I don't think one can go wrong with a recipe book from America's Test Kitchen. These folks know their stuff. I can see why you bought the book, the cover alone makes my mouth water for lasagna, lol
Thanks for sharing.
Susanne :)

KatieQ said...

I like using the slow cooker for chili, pot roast,stews, and soups. Unfortunately a lot of recipes use canned soups to help make their gravy which is a real turn off for me. It adds an incredible amount of sodium and not much flavor (other than salt). The chicken recipes sound great. I'll definitely have to check out this cookbook. Thanks for the review.

Becky said...

We have this cookbook (hubby bought it). I thought the recipes looked great.

quiltzyx said...

Another book to add to wish list!

One question - in the recipe you said "Stir remaining 3 cups brown and bay leaves into slow cooker."
What is brown?

This does sound reallllly good, especially right now, when we actually have some rain coming down. :D