I really want to like using a slow cooker but I just don’t. I’ve tried lots of different recipes and there are very few that I don’t mind using the crock pot for. I think the crock pot is great when you have some meatballs you want to keep warm in a bbq sauce for a pot luck and I do like using the crock pot for chili. Chicken breasts come out dry and stringy if they are cooked too long and the braising liquid never really cooks down so you end up with a watery sauce instead of one that is thick and richly flavoured.
Most dishes that are made in slow cookers often benefit from the meat being browned before being put in the slow cooker. It is often a vital step to get great flavour in your dish but you have one more big pan to clean. If you use a cast iron enamelled pot, you brown the meat and cook everything in the same pot. It can even go in the oven. I don’t recommend browning ground beef in the cast iron pot though; it is just too heavy to lift and drain the excess fat off.
I made one of my favourite recipes last week, Chicken Cacciatore, and because I was going to be out of the house most of the day I wasn’t comfortable leaving the oven on while I wasn’t home. I made a huge batch of Chicken Cacciatore with 20 big chicken thighs. I put all the ingredients in the crock pot after I seared the chicken and sautéed the onions and garlic in a frying pan. It cooked in the crock pot for 5 hours but it resemble a very chunky soup and not the thick sauce I was used to. I took the lid off, hoping that it would evaporate but it quickly became evident that this would not happen. All I could do was transfer it all into the cast iron enamelled pot and put it in the oven for 45 minutes with the lid off.
I know that there are devoted fans of slow-cookers and they can be a saviour for weeknight meals. If you will be at home and can monitor the cooking, a cast-iron enamel pot gives you superior results. This is why I always double or even triple recipes so that I can pull a ready cooked meal from the freezer and just thaw it. I prefer to cook once and clean up once and have 2 or 3 meals from the effort.
If you don’t have a cast iron enamelled pot you might be thinking that you can’t afford a $300 Le Creuset pot, like you see on cooking shows. I am not Ree Drummond so I don’t have half a dozen (or more) Le Creusets. I don’t even have one. I have a no-name 5 quart pot that I got as a wedding gift nearly 10 years ago that likely cost around $50 or $60. I see in our local flyers that the KitchenAid and Cuisinart brand cast iron-enamelled pots go on sale almost weekly. They usually range from $30 for the 3 quart pot to $80 for the 7 quart pot. I definitely have my eye on the 7 quart one, but that will have to wait so I can save up for it. If you don’t have one at all and are looking to buy one, I would recommend going with the 7 quart pot if you intend to do a lot of large batch cooking like I do.
One of my other favourite dishes to make in my cast iron pot is a monster size batch of spaghetti sauce. It is a staple in our house because it is a favourite of his lordship, the four year old. Timothy would prefer to have that every night. Maybe every other night because he would want ham on the alternate days, with lasagna on special occasions.
If you do get yourself a cast iron enamelled pot and fill it to the brim with your favourite meal, remember to lift with your knees!
- 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large leek (or 1 medium onion), sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb of cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tsp herbe de provence (or dried thyme)
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- ¾ cup 35% cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large cast iron enamelled pot (I use a 5 quart pot), heat the olive oil over a medium heat.
- Generously season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Brown the chicken thighs in the pot in batches. 12 chicken thighs will likely be 3 batches. Place the brown chicken thighs on a plate while you cook the other chicken thighs.
- Cut the green end off the leak and the root tip. Slice the leek lengthwise and wash any sand out from in between the layers. Slice the leek into thin half moons.
- When the chicken thighs are browned, turn down the heat and add the leeks, minced garlic and mushrooms. Cook until the leek has softened and the mushrooms have started to cook down a little, about 5 minutes.
- Add a big pinch of salt and pepper and the dried herbs.
- Add the white wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
- Add in the chicken broth and return the chicken thighs to the pot.
- Put the pot in the preheated oven with the lid on and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. You can cook it entirely on the stovetop, whatever is your preference.
- After it has been cooking in the oven for 45 minutes, put the pot back on the stovetop and remove the lid. Add the cream and cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes to a half hour with the lid off. You are looking for the sauce to be the consistency of a thick gravy or a rich cream of mushroom soup.
- Serve over a mix of mashed regular potatoes and sweet potatoes.