I am utterly defenseless in Williams-Sonoma stores. The books! The gadgets! The glistening cookware! It’s like turning a kid loose in a toy store. Case in point: last week, I stopped in to buy a few tins of peppermint bark for holiday gifts. Thirty minutes later, I left as the proud owner of a new All-Clad Slow Cooker. Santa visited early this year.
Until recently, I’ve been pretty ambivalent about slow cookers. Aside from the convenience of walk-away cooking, I never totally understood the draw. For one, the recipe books seemed to be filled with a million variations on the same theme. So many stews! So much chili! Why, I wondered, buy another appliance for the countertop when a simple Dutch oven can produce these dishes so well?
Well, friends, times they are a-changin’. On my way to the peppermint bark display (which, to my wallet’s chagrin, was at the back of the store), a book called The New Slow Cooker caught my eye. The photograph on the cover (Spicy Pork with Butternut Squash) appeared bright, fresh, and so curiously undrenched in sauce that I couldn’t help but stop and take a peek. Flipping through the book, each recipe looked better than the next: Braised Beets with Arugula, Short Rib (Soft) Tacos, Moroccan Lamb Chops with Couscous. Could this all really have come from a slow cooker? My interest was piqued.
The next day, I unboxed my purchases and decided to give Chicken with Saffron Rice a whirl. The recipe was straightforward enough: brown the chicken parts and aromatics, mix with saffron-infused wine, chicken stock, and rice, and leave it alone for a few hours. As skeptical as I was of leaving dinner to its own devices without having to stir or re-season, I resisted the temptation to lift the lid. When I came home from my afternoon appointment, the kitchen smelled amazing and dinner was soon on the table with minimal cleanup.
So, how did it taste? For the amount of effort put forth, it was a good dinner that I won’t hesitate to make again on a cold winter night. My only real complaint was that the rice was overcooked, but I suspect that this was my own fault for not knowing the power of my slow cooker. (As with any appliance, some models get hotter than others and cook at different rates.) In retrospect, I probably should’ve set the timer for two hours, instead of the three the recipe indicated.
The book suggested topping the platter with Warm Asparagus Salad, so I followed suit with just a few minor revisions to the vinaigrette (I found the original a bit too tart). I wouldn’t skip the salad, even though it leaves a few extra bowls to clean. The lemon and capers really awakened the flavors and pulled the dish together.
All in all, not a bad foray into the new age of slow cooking. I’m looking forward to trying other recipes in the book, especially the short ribs. Those are definitely calling my name.
- 1/2 cup dry white wine, plus 3 tablespoons
- Generous pinch saffron threads
- 1 cut-up chicken (about 3-1/2 pounds)
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups long-grain white rice
- 1-1/2 cups chopped pimento peppers (about 2 large jarred peppers)
- Combine the saffron and 3 tablespoons wine in a small bowl. Set aside while you prepare the chicken.
- Rinse, dry, and season the chicken parts on both sides with generous sprinklings of salt and pepper. If your slow cooker insert is approved for stove use, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. (If your insert cannot be used on the stove, follow your manufacturer's instructions for in-unit browning/sautéing, or proceed in a large sauté pan and transfer the food to the insert after browning.) Sear the chicken in two batches until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the insert/pan and set aside.
- Drain some of the residual fat from the insert/pan, leaving about a tablespoon to cook the aromatics. Add the onions and bay leaves, and sauté until the onions are lightly browned, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring, for about one minute, until fragrant.
- Deglaze the insert/pan with the remaining 1/2 cup wine and the reserved saffron-infused wine. Stir for about one minute, and remove from heat.
- If using a sauté pan, transfer the mixture to your slow cooker insert. Add the chicken stock and rice, stirring to combine. Return the chicken to the insert, along with any accumulated juices. Cover and cook on the slow cooker's LOW setting for 2-3 hours.
- Remove lid and discard the bay leaves. Sprinkle the chicken with the chopped pimentos. If the rice looks very dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of water. Replace lid, and continue cooking on LOW for 10 - 15 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving platter and top with warm asparagus salad. Drizzle an additional 1/4 cup of the Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette over the dish and serve immediately.
- 1 pound asparagus
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 shallot, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1/2 tsp salt, plus additional to taste
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
- In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and zest, shallot, salt, and 4-5 grinds of black pepper. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil until the mixture is emulsified. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Trim and discard any stalky ends of the asparagus and cut the spears into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full of water and bring to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and the lower asparagus spear pieces, reserving the tips. (Adding the tips too soon will cause them to fall apart). Cook for 4-5 minutes and add the tips, continuing to cook until crisp-tender, about 2-3 minutes. Drain.
- Toss the warm asparagus with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette, the capers, and the chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper as needed.