Here’s French method for cooking chicken in the slow-cooker. It’s based on a classic French recipe for “blanquette.” And guess what–I’ve solved the problem of flabby skin on slow-cooked chicken. Read on!
French Chicken Stew for the Slow Cooker, based on a French Blanquette of Chicken
Recently, on my Facebook page, I asked readers what kind of French recipes they’d like me to develop. Many of you said chicken, but added that you’ve always wondered how to avoid flabby skin on your slow-cooked chicken.
Well, here’s how: Take the danged skin off!
What about flavor, you ask?
No problem: Use the cut with the most flavor: thighs. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are the way to go, mes amis!
I ask you: Who needs chicken skin when you have a chicken recipe with a flavorful, wine-laced, touch-of-cream-enriched sauce with mushrooms? That’s the secret here. After all, chicken blanquette was never meant to be made with skin-on pieces, so it’s not like we’re stinting on anything.
My little kitchen in my little town (Collioure).
History of this recipe: I originally developed this recipe for the Better Homes and Gardens “Soups and Stews” book-a-zine. It was a plum assignment: When the editor contacted me, to develop some French stew recipes, I was actually in France, staying in a little vacation rental by the Mediterranean Sea. The weather had just hit a cold spell, and I was craving something warming and hearty—but something that tapped into the finesse that is France.
My editor and I decided to focus the story on blanquette—a French stew that’s finished with a tumble of fresh vegetables plus a touch of luscious cream to make it white—blanquette comes from the French word blanc (white). Blanquette is traditionally made with veal, but I turned to my French butcher to inspire other versions. I developed recipes for pork, lamb, and chicken.
Now that you, dear readers, have asked me to develop more French recipes for the slow cooker, I’ve decided to adapt my Chicken Blanquette recipe for the cooker. So here it is!
Step-by-step instructions (if you just want the recipe, scroll on down!)
1. Gather Your Aromatics
This is quite simply seasoned–the flavor comes in the richness of the wine-laced sauce that’s flavored-up with the ingredients below.
Salt, pepper, celery stalks, onion, parsley, bay leaf, carrot, cloves.
2. Make yourself a Bouquet Garnie
Just tie together a small handful of parsley and a bay leaf. Avoid breaking the brittle bay leaf–you don’t want bits of bay leaf in your stew (it’s a food-safety issue). The bouquet garnie makes it easier to remove the parsley and bay leaf later. You can also use bouquet garnie bags (or spice bags), available at many kitchen stores.
3. Stud the Onion with Some Cloves
Stud one quarter of the onion with a couple of cloves. This makes the cloves easier to remove later.
4. Cut Up Your Chicken
Cut the chicken thighs into semi-large (1 1/2 to 2-inch) pieces. If you cut them too small, they’ll break down into stringy bits during cooking time.
5. Ready, Set, Slow-Cook….
You’ll lightly brown the chicken, then add the aromatics and cooking liquid (wine and broth).
To note here: You want the celery, onions, and carrots in nice big chunks. They’re only here to flavor the broth. You’ll remove them later. I love my Cuisinart 3-in-1 Slow Cooker, as it lets me brown the meat in the cooker.
5. ….But Not for Too Long
Friends–in my view, the number one problem with slow-cooking chicken isn’t the flabby skin. It’s that you can’t cook it all day and expect it not to fall apart. I just don’t get these recipes that have you cooking boneless skinless chicken for 6 to 8 hours! It’ll end up breaking into strings.
I cooked my stew on low, and it was perfectly done after 3 hours. It could have stood maybe another hour of slow cooking, but any longer and it would have been mush. So, I’m sorry to say that this isn’t the recipe to plop into the cooker in the morning and come home to after 8 hours of work. But it is a great make-ahead recipe for a cozy Saturday or Sunday night.
6. The Finishing Touches
You could probably throw the mushrooms and green beans into the cooker about 1 hour before the stew is done (if cooking on low) or 1/2 hour before the stew is done (if cooking on high). But I’m not that kind of cook. I like my veggies to be cooked with more precision; therefore, I cook them separately (don’t worry–you’ll only need one pot!).
Thicken the stew with a beurre manie (butter and flour worked together into a paste); add the veggies, and you’re done. It’s a rather elegant dish, for a slow-cooker!
Voilà! My French Chicken Stew–in the Slow Cooker. (a.k.a.: Blanquette de Poulet Bonne Femme).
Chicken Blanquette—French Chicken Stew—in the Slow Cooker
Don't pass on this recipe because the ingredient list looks long--you likely have many of these things on hand already. PS: This is great with baked rice, pureed potatoes, or parsleyed noodles.
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 whole cloves
1 medium onion, quartered
10 fresh parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large carrot, cut into large chunks
1 stalk celery, including leaves, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
½ dried thyme, crushed
1 pound haricots verts or thin green beans, trimmed
2 cups quartered fresh mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup whipping cream
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste. On the browning setting of your slow-cooker (375°F), cook and stir the chicken in the hot oil until lightly brown. Press the cloves into one of the onion quarters. Using 100% cotton kitchen string, tie the parsley and bay leaf into a bundle (being careful not to break up the bay leaf). Add onion quarters, parsley bundle, wine, broth, carrot, celery, and thyme to the cooker.
Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours or on the high-heat setting for 1½ to 2 hours.
About 20 minutes before cooking time is over, in a large saucepan cook the haricot verts, covered, in boiling salted water for 4 minutes or until barely crisp-tender (green beans will take a little longer). Drain. In the same saucepan, cook the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of the butter until tender. Add the haricot verts to the saucepan; cover to keep warm.
Remove the carrots, parsley/bay leaf bundle, clove-studded onion quarter, and celery stalks from the slow cooker; discard. In a small bowl, work the flour and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into a smooth paste. Set the slow-cooker on 350° (or on High) and bring the liquid to a boil. Gradually whisk the butter-flour paste into the cooking liquid. Cook and stir until the liquid thickens and bubbles; cook and stir one minute more.
Stir in the whipping cream and bring to a boil; stir in the haricots verts mixture. Cook until heated through.
To sere, ladle stew into bowls; serve alongside rice, pureed potatoes, or noodles. Garnish with fresh snipped parsley, if desired.
Everyone on my facebook page liked this photo best.
Congratulations, Deb Wiley. You handily won the Any-Night Baked Rice Photo Contest! Truth is, I didn’t have that many entries: I think that after I posted Deb’s photos on my facebook page, everyone else threw in the towel! Deb’s photos were just so pretty, and perfectly show the “every grain stands apart” perfection of this recipe.
Deb, you win a signed copy of my cookbook; but methinks you already have it! Email me and we’ll talk about a substitute prize. You are the best.
So. Here’s the recipe for Any-Night Baked Rice; everyone agrees that it’s an all-out winner. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out on the simple-yet-lovely French cooking that this blog (and my book) are all about.
I love serving it especially with braises, pot roasts, and stews, because it’s the perfect “sponge” to sop up the wonderful sauces (or gravies!). A few suggestions:
Blanquette of Pork. It’s pictured here with noodles, but I usually serve it with Any-Night Baked Rice.
Well, that ought to get you started! As you probably guessed, Any-Night Baked Rice goes with many entrées, but this season, it’s especially great with just about any braised recipes; if you want an entire list of the best braised recipe on this site, see this post: What to Cook in Your Braiser.
You asked for more French slow-cooker recipes, so here’s another: My Slow-Cooked French Beef Stew with Orange and Balsamic Vinegar. It’s a favorite from the Bonne Femme Cookbook, and with a few adjustments, it worked beautifully in the slow cooker.
My French Beef Stew with Orange and Balsamic Vinegar–in the Slow Cooker. It’s an update on the classic Boeuf aux Carottes.
Happy Polar Vortex, everyone! Ha–I’m only half kidding. Check back with me in March, but I actually enjoy winter: It’s the coziest of seasons and a great excuse to enjoy all those great French braises that taste so good right now. One of those is a classic Boeuf au Carottes–beef with carrots. Traditionally, it’s a stew made simply of beef, onions, garlic, thyme, wine, and carrots.
While there’s nothing remotely wrong with the original recipe, I couldn’t resist flavoring it up a bit with orange and balsamic vinegar. It’s a recipe I make often from The Bonne Femme Cookbook, but that I’ve refashioned here for the slow cooker.
First, a few pointers (skip to the bottom of this post if you just want the recipe!).
1. Get some good stew meat: You can buy stew meat that’s already cut up, but I find that it can sometimes be lean to a fault. I’m looking for a little marbling! That’s what gives the meat its rich flavor and meltingly tender amazingness. I chose a 7-bone roast, but you can use chuck pot roast as well.
A 7-Bone Pot Roast
2. Ready the aromatics and braising liquid: Onion, garlic, thyme, wine, balsamic vinegar, beef broth, fresh orange juice, salt, pepper, and an orange-flavored spirit (such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec—buy an airline-size bottle if you don’t keep this on hand).
Just a few ingredients for so much flavor.
3. Cut the roast into 2-inch pieces. Yes, you can trim some of the fat….but don’t trim all of it. Otherwise, what’s the point?
7-Bone Pot Roast, cut up for stew
5. Dredge in flour.…then brown in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker doesn’t have a browning option, you’ll have to do this in a deep skillet.
Browning Stew Meat in the Cuisinart 3-in-1 Slow Cooker
7. Before serving, get a gremolata going: diced orange peel, parsley, and garlic. This gives a bracing jolt of freshness to the long-braised stew.
Gremolata (or, since it’s French, maybe we should call it persillade), with orange peel, parsley, and garlic.
And that, my friends is it. Here’s the recipe, with all you need to know. I love serving this with pureed potatoes, though you can also serve it with Any-Night Baked Rice or some parsleyed noodles.
My French Beef Stew with Orange and Balsamic Vinegar–in the Slow Cooker
My French Beef Stew Recipe with Orange and Balsamic Vinegar—in the Slow Cooker
Serves: 4 servings.
2½ pounds beef chuck roast or 7-bone roast, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup dry red wine
¼ cup low-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
4 carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ x 2-inch sticks
Season the beef with salt and pepper. Dredge beef pieces in the flour, shaking off excess. Brown the meat on all sides in the hot oil a deep skillet (or, in a slow-cooker with a browning setting—I set my Cuisinart at 375°). Transfer the meat to a plate.
Add the onion (along with a touch more olive oil if the pan seems too dry) and cook, stirring, until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds more.
Combine the orange juice, red wine, beef broth, Grand Marnier, and balsamic vinegar; add these liquids to the pan (or cooker) and cook, stirring, to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to boiling. Return the meat to the pan (or cooker) and add the thyme. (If using a crockery cooker, transfer the meat and the braising liquid to the cooker at this point).
Cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours or until the meat is tender. During the last ½ hour of cooking, if using the low-heat setting, switch the cooker onto the high-heat setting. Add grated zest and carrots and cook until the carrots are tender. Before serving, skim fat from surface, if needed. Serve the stew in shallow bowls with potatoes, rice, or noodles; if desired, top with Orange Gremolata (step 5) for a jolt of freshness to the long-simmering meat.
Orange Gremolata: Just before serving, dice together 1 tablespoon grated orange peel, 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, and 2 garlic cloves. Sprinkle a little of this on each serving
Also, I wanted to let you know that the slow-cooker I’ve been using to test my recipes is on sale. I’m a huge fan of this Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 4-Quart Slow Cooker. Below is an Amazon affiliate link. I love the way this cooker will switch to a “warm” setting after the cook-time is done. That means if you’re out and about, the cooker will keep the roast at food-safe (and ready to eat) temperatures until dinner. No more overcooking the meat!
Right now (11-12-2014), it costs $116—it’s regularly $240. (Once you get to the page, click on the 4-quart option–in my view, it’s the best size for most families.)