Low and slow is the way to go with this Greek chicken dinner
This toothsome chicken dish makes its way into the world via a slow cooker, a kitchen device I've grown to love.
There are several reasons to like slow cookers, even beyond the wonderfulness of being able to toss ingredients into it, head to work and return to a fully cooked dinner in the evening. Thanks to that long, low-temp cooking, slow cookers also are great at reducing tougher cuts of meat to tender goodness. And because they are covered during cooking, moisture doesn't escape and the food stays particularly moist.
The utensil's one drawback (assuming you're using a traditional model) is that you can't brown your meat or vegetables in it. Newer models often have a saute mode, which is handy. But this isn't a deal breaker if you're making a dish that doesn't require browning, such as chicken soup or beans or fish stew. But it'd be nice to have that option when you're making a recipe that depends on browning to build flavor, such as a pot roast or braised lamb shanks.
The first time I prepared this Greek chicken dish, I hoped it would turn out to be one of those throw-the-ingredients-in-the-pot-and-walk-away-from-it-without-a-care-in-the-world miracles. Following the advice of several slow cooker cookbooks, I removed and discarded the chicken skin before cooking it. The theory was that it would end up rubbery and add too much fat to the dish as it cooked. I also added the onions raw, the garlic smashed, and the rosemary in stalks.
But that approach didn't work out as planned. The finished dish was lackluster and the chicken was dry.
So, back to the drawing board. This time I browned the key components - chicken, onions and garlic - in a skillet before adding them to the slow cooker. I also opted not to remove the skin from the chicken and to dip the chicken in flour before sauteing it. I discarded most of the fat that came out of the skin as it browned, but kept some of it because fat is a conductor of flavor. I reckoned that these two steps would do double-duty: amp the flavor and protect the chicken from drying out.
It's worth noting, by the way, that the skin never became rubbery. It helped that it stuck up above the liquid as it cooked. Also, the chicken's flour coating helped to lightly thicken the sauce. Of course, if you're so inclined, you're welcome to remove the skin just before serving; it will have already done its job.
In the end, the first and final versions of this recipe were as different as night and day. As ever, it's all in the details.
SLOW COOKER GREEK CHICKEN
Start to finish: 5 1/2 hours (1 hour active)
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped pepperoncini (Italian pickled peppers)
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 whole lemon, cut into 8 wedges
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth or stock
In a large (6-quart) slow cooker, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Dip half the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess, and add the pieces to the skillet, skin side down. Cook until nicely browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker, placing it on top of the potatoes, skin side up. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken and flour.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of any fat left in the skillet, then return it to medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Return the skillet to high heat and add the wine, stirring and scraping to deglaze the pan and loosen any stuck bits. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half, then add to the slow cooker.
Add the remaining ingredients, tucking them among the chicken thighs. Cover and cook on low for 4 1/2 hours or high for 2 1/2 hours. Transfer the chicken and potatoes to serving plates, making sure each portion includes olives, a lemon wedge and sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 780 calories; 490 calories from fat (63 percent of total calories); 54 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 190 mg cholesterol; 2440 mg sodium; 34 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 36 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton is the host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "Home Cooking 101."