It’s officially comfort-food season.
While I own fancy, French enameled Dutch ovens and an electric pressure cooker, I still like to kick it old-school sometimes and use my slow cooker.
There’s something about prepping a meal for a few minutes in the morning and knowing that dinner will be ready when we want to eat that really speaks to me.
The slow cooker is also great for making some fun side dishes (including mashed potatoes, and they are good!) and for simmering chicken stock. I recently made some deeply flavored bone broth, which simmered for 24 hours without having to run my gas stovetop overnight.
I know lots of cooks who turn their nose up at slow cookers, calling them old-fashioned and even accusing the food that comes out of them as being tasteless mush, but for me, it’s just another tool in my cooking arsenal. Used correctly, it works great on busy days and for making things that simply need to cook for a long time.
Here are a few of the recipes I’ve discovered recently, including those mashed potatoes, which I will be making for our (very small) Thanksgiving gathering.
Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
This stock is richly flavored, thanks to a really long simmer time. There’s nothing more satisfying than using the remains of a roasted or supermarket rotisserie chicken to create the base for many more meals.
1 chicken carcass from a roasted or rotisserie chicken
2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
4 stalks celery, including leaves, coarsely chopped
2 yellow onions, including peels, washed and cut into quarters
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
Fresh thyme stalks if you have them
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
Place all ingredients in a 7 quart slow cooker. Add water to fill until it’s about a half-inch from the top. Cover and cook on low for at least 12 hours and up to 24. The longer the cooking time, the richer the stock will be.
Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer, and then again through a double layer of cheesecloth. Refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze for a few months.
Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes
Adapted from The New York Times Cooking
I love that this recipe includes zero water, which seems crazy until you try it. The potatoes turn out really, well, potato-y. If you don’t stir every hour, you might get some unsightly brown spots. I didn’t follow my own advice and got some, but we decided we liked the nutty caramelized flavor that resulted. Also, this seems like a lot of salt, but potatoes really need salt.
5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, plus 3 tablespoons, cut into chunks
Scant tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream
1 bunch chives, minced, divided
Toss together the potatoes, melted butter, salt and a generous amount of black pepper in a 6- to 8-quart slow cooker. Cook on high until the potatoes are very tender, stirring every hour if possible to encourage even cooking, about 4 hours. (This took about 3 ½ hours in my slow cooker, which I think runs hot.)
Add the sour cream and remaining 3 tablespoons butter and mash the potatoes with a masher until they are smooth and creamy. Just before serving, stir in half the chives and season again with black pepper. Taste and add more salt only if necessary. Top with remaining chives.
Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff
Adapted from foodnetwork.com
I’m usually against soup mix, but in this case, it’s kind of a brilliant shortcut that brings a ton of extra flavor without having to saute onions and garlic before adding them to the slow cooker.
2 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One 1-ounce package dry onion soup mix
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces button or cremini (or a mixture of both) mushrooms, sliced
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 3/4 pounds)
12 ounces egg noodles
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Whisk together the broth, flour, tomato paste, onion soup mix, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl until combined. Add to a 6-quart slow cooker and top with the mushrooms and chicken. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt the water generously. Add the noodles and cook until al dente according to the package directions. Drain and toss in a large bowl with the butter until the butter is melted and the noodles are completely coated.
Transfer the chicken to a small bowl and shred with two forks. Whisk the cream cheese into the sauce until completely incorporated; stir in the chicken. Serve over buttered noodles and top with parsley before serving.
Honey Chipotle Tacos
Adapted from The New York Times Cooking
The original recipe calls for adding a can of rinsed black beans at the end of the cook time. I forgot, and I didn’t miss them, but I might try it next time. Serve these deceptively simple tacos with whatever toppings you like — we went with quick-pickled onions, avocado and cotija cheese.
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 4 chipotles from a can of chipotles in adobo, finely chopped, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Warmed tortillas, for serving
Combine the chicken, honey, onion and garlic powders, cumin, salt and chipotle chiles and adobo sauce in a 5- to 8-quart slow cooker. Stir well. Cook for at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours on low. If it’s more convenient, you can let the slow cooker switch to warm after 5 hours. The dish will hold on warm for about another 3 hours before the chicken starts to become quite dry.
Using two forks, coarsely shred the chicken in the sauce. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if necessary. Serve in tortillas with your choice of toppings.
Tom Kha Gai
Adapted from “Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker”
After I had that rich chicken stock, I knew I wanted to make soup, but was in the mood for something a little more exotic than the usual chicken noodle. Although this recipe required a trek to an Asian grocery (Shuang Her on University Avenue is my favorite), I have no regrets. I also stocked up on some other staples while I was there.
3 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layers removed
3 cups low sodium or homemade chicken stock
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (2-inch piece) galangal or ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 kaffir lime leaves, halved, or 6 strips of lime zest
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 Thai bird chiles
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch strips
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1 large carrot, cut into matchstick pieces
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped Thai basil, plus more leaves for garnish
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Chili oil sauce (I like the crispy kind, available at Asian markets), for serving
Preheat your slow cooker.
On a cutting board, using the side of a chef’s knife, lightly smash lemongrass. Combine lemongrass, stock, fish sauce, sugar, galangal or ginger, lime leaves, shallot, chiles, chicken and mushrooms in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high until chicken is cooked through, about 2 1/2 hours (or on low for 5 hours).
Add coconut milk and carrot and cook in high for 30 minutes longer (or on low for 1 hour). Stir in lime juice, cilantro, basil and scallion. Top with cilantro, little basil leaves and chili oil sauce.
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