A question that comes up now and then is whether my recipes—or any great French stews and braises—can be adapted to the slow cooker. Well, the answer is yes, if you choose the right recipe.
In France, the slow cooker is called “une mijoteuse“— a simmer-er. Next time I head to France (which, in fact, will be February 3rd), I plan to pick up some French cookbooks for la mijoteuse and see just what the French bonne femme does with this appliance.
Meanwhile, a few ways to adapt my bonne femme recipes—as well as your favorite French stews and braises—to the slow cooker:
* Choose stews and braises that call on tough cuts that are great simmering cuts. In my book, the following cuts come to mind: beef and lamb stew meat, beef short ribs, pork shoulder, meaty chicken pieces (legs and thighs, especially), bone-in pork chops, lamb blade chops and baby-back pork ribs. Recipes for these meats are in the Roast, Stew, or Braise chapter.
* Find another slow-cooker recipe you know and trust that calls on the same kind of meat in roughly the same amount. Use the cook times in this recipe as a guideline for your French recipe.
* Your slow cooker should always be at least 1/2 full, but less than 2/3 full. So when you’re at the meat counter, consider the size of your slow cooker, and go up or down on the amount of meat as needed to achieve this fullness.
* Trim excess fat from the meat and cut the meat as needed to fit into the cooker.
* Brown the meat as indicated in the recipe. Place it in the slow cooker. Follow instructions for preparing the cooking liquid (in my recipes, usually this includes sauteing onions and garlic and adding some wine, broth and seasonings, and cooking it down a bit). However, use only one-half the amount of liquids called for in my original recipe. (That is, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup vermouth and 1/2 cup chicken stock, use 1/4 cup of each).
* Pour the cooking liquid over the meats. Cook according to the timings given in your tried-and-true slow-cooker recipe, checking at the earliest point in the range given.
* If there are finishing touches to the original bonne femme recipe (such as olives and prosciutto added at the end of cooking, or pearl onions and mushrooms sauteed toward the end of cooking), do this about 1/2 hour before your recipe is finished.
* If the bonne femme recipe calls for removing the meat and simmering the liquids to reduce them, you can do this in the slow cooker, uncovered, on high. It may take a while, so if you’re in a hurry, transfer the liquids to a pan and do this atop the stove.
To test this strategy, I gave the Vermouth-Braised Chicken with Black Olive and Prosciutto a try. It worked beautifully, though I must say that the chicken was done in much shorter time than in the slow-cooker recipe I used as a guideline. (the slow-cooker book said 3 1/2 hours; mine was done in 2 hours). Here’s what I did:
Vermouth-Braised Chicken with Black Olives and Prosciutto in the Slow Cooker (La Mijoteuse)
Makes 4 servings
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup pitted imported black olives, such as Nyons and Niçoise
1/4 cup finely diced prosciutto or cooked and crumbled pancetta
1. Season the thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides. Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker and drain off all but a sheen of fat from the skillet.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender; add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds more. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vermouth and chicken broth, taking care not to let the liquid spatter. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil; boil, stirring with a wire whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Stir in the herbes de Provence, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
3. Pour this braising liquid over the chicken in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high-heat setting about 2 hours (I estimate that the low-heat setting would be about 5 to 6 hours, but I have not actually tested this timing—so far, I have only tested the high-heat setting). Uncover; add the olives, and sprinkle the prosciutto on top of the chicken. Re-cover, and let simmer until the olives and prosciutto are warm and the chicken registers 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes more.
4. Divide the chicken, olives, and prosciutto bits among four shallow bowls, pour a spoonful of sauce over each, and serve.
P.S.: Yes, I threw a little snipped fresh parsley on it for color. Also, I love serving this with Any-Night Baked Rice.