In Praise of the Braise
Slow Cooker Garlic Chicken is so easy to make I feel a little uncomfortable calling this a recipe. If you can brown meat and plop it into a slow cooker (and you can), then this dish is for you. It is for everyone.
To me, a braise is the best thing about the winter months. It simply entails quickly browning meat over high heat then letting it simmer slowly over low heat on a stovetop, in an oven or slow cooker. Add vegetables, herbs or, in this recipe, lots of garlic cloves. It is a technique that will adapt to be as simple or fancy as your life will allow.
Splitting a head of garlic in half and adding it to the pot to cook slowly in its own skins ensures there are no sharp pungent odors or flavors. Slow cooked garlic adds a richness and depth to plain chicken that my kids find warming on the coldest days. I like garlic’s reputation as an infection fighter, warding off viruses and bacteria, which makes it seem like a smart choice for dinner during the height of the flu season.
I’ve stopped buying rotisserie chicken and started doing a weekly braise in my slow cooker with bone-in chicken breasts instead. It’s less expensive, I have more meat, and, most importantly, a residual nurturing bone broth to make into a sauce or use to enrich chicken broth for soups.
As you have likely already read, the magical powers of chicken soup is more than just lore. Simmering bones and rendered chicken fat provide powerful immune benefits and literally help keep us warm and full when the weather outside is cold.
Dinner is ready not only for tonight but with leftovers for tomorrow, as well (or perhaps the next day, too.) You might have been expecting a recipe today but what I dare offer here is a way of life with an easy meal worthy of weekly devotion.
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1-2 Tablespoons oil
- 2 lbs. bone-in chicken parts (I used 4 chicken breasts but if you like dark meat, include legs and thighs.)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 head of garlic, sliced in half across the middle
- Peeled and chopped carrots or other root vegetables, (optional)
- Season chicken parts with salt and pepper
- Heat butter in a large fry pan over medium high heat. (Do not use non-stick.)
- Once butter is hot, add chicken pieces, skin side down first. Let them sit in the heat and brown.
- If butter starts to get dark in the pan, add oil to the bottom of the pan.
- Once they are a golden brown, turn over to brown the other side. (Try not to turn until they are browned but don't worry if some pieces get stuck to the pan. We need the bits!)
- Once chicken is browned on all sides, remove to the slow cooker.
- Add chicken broth and raise heat to high.
- Using a wooden spoon, scrape bottom of the pan to loosen any stuck-on chicken and brown bits. You are cleaning your pan and scavenging the most flavor for your dish.
- Once the pan is scraped clean, pour entire mixture over your chicken, add garlic head halves face down in the crock pot and cover.
- Cook on low for about 6 hours or high for about 2-3 hours until chicken is falling off the bone.
- If adding root vegetables, add after about 1½ hours on high or 3 hours on low. Or cook separately and add before serving.
- When done, carefully remove chicken using a slotted spoon, place on a plate and shred chicken away from the bone using two forks (or, if cool enough, your hands to remove any small bones). Discard the bones and skin.
- Remove garlic halves and gently press on skins to release the soft cloves. Mash cloves with a fork and add back to the pot. Discard the skins.
- Add chicken back to the crock pot or store separately from the broth to use for another dish tomorrow.
- If serving immediately, set over cooked rice or noodles with a drizzle of sauce and a finishing drizzle of best-quality olive oil.
- I save the broth and any leftover chicken and serve as a soup for lunch boxes the next day, adding more chicken broth, as necessary.