Warm and Hearty — Crock-Pot Moroccan Chicken Stew

3 Dec

It’s winter time, which means ‘tis the season for hearty meals—like soups and stews.  Actually, apparently Mother Nature has made a liar out of me.  The calendar may read December, but here in Ohio it feels like anything but.  With the warm, rainy, days we’ve had recently it feels more like April than anything else.

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This past weekend, pretending that it was winter, I hauled out the Crock-Pot.  Crock-Pots (or slow cooker for those of you with models from other brands) seem to be perfectly designed for winter meals.  You can get them started, head out into the cold for some exercise or other event, and then return to a ready and waiting meal.

While we were out enjoying the German Village lights--and watching music outside of Pistacia Vera--our stew was at home, cooking away.

While we were out enjoying the German Village lights–and watching music outside of Pistacia Vera–our stew was at home, cooking away.

And that’s why, although many people will cheer the recent warm-snap (is that even a think? Warm-snap?) I won’t be among them.

I love the cold you see.

And not just for the outdoor sports that even under normal conditions are rare in Ohio.  No, the cold weather makes for perfect cooking weather.  There’s something great about spending the evening in your kitchen, where it’s bright and warm, while the elements bluster mightily on just the other side of the wall.  Steamed up windows caused by something simmering away on the stove can only occur when the temperature outside is significantly below the temperature in.  Not only that, but because so many slow cooker recipes are of the stew variety, they’re perfectly suited for making winter meals.

The recipe of choice for this weekend was a Moroccan Chicken Stew, provided by America’s Test Kitchen in their “SlowCooker Revolution” cookbook.  One of the things that has prevented me from using my Crock-Pot as much as I’d like is that so many recipes require a lot of prep-work.  Many times, that prep-work is just as involved as would be if you were going to cook without the aid of a slow cooker in the first place.

Onion and spices, prior to going into the microwave for the first time.

Onion and spices, prior to going into the microwave for the first time.

While still not entirely free from such requirements, in their book, America’s Test Kitchen mostly avoids this trap by calling on another staple of convenience cooking: the microwave.  Many of the recipes call for you to microwave some of the ingredients before adding them to the pot.  In this case, it was the onions and spices who got the nuking treatment.

After that, it was pretty much your stereotypical slow cooker experience: put everything in the pot, cover, and walk away for 4-6 hours.  (Cooking this weekend, I discovered that slow cookers are not for everyone.  If you’re someone who is impatient *cough, Tania, cough* then a Crock-Pot might not be your preferred method of cooking.  They involve a lot of waiting—and not much doing.  Not only that, but you need to keep the lid on while things are cooking. You don’t want to let the heat out.  So, no peeking!)

Moroccan Chicken Stew

2 onions, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (we got ours from North Market Spices, great quality, and the best price we saw anywhere in town!)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (plus extra if needed)

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained and rinsed

1 cup dried apricots, chopped medium

3 tablespoons minute tapioca

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Light brown sugar

Lemon wedges for serving (we skipped these)

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1. Microwave onions, garlic, tomato paste, oil, paprika, cardamom, and cayenne in a bowl, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir both, wine, chickpeas, half of the apricots, tapioca, bay leaves and cinnamon stick into slow cooker.

3. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender (which should be about 4 to 6 hours).

4. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then—using two forks—shred into bite sized pieces. Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then remove any fat from the surface using a large slotted spoon. (The last part is what the recipe called for. Maybe it’s because we trimmed the chicken well, but for us, there was no fat to be trimmed.)

5. Discard bay leaves and cinnamon stick.

6. Stir in remaining apricots, cover, and cook on high until softented, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in shredded chicken and let sit until heated through—about 5 minutes. (Adjust stew consistency with additional hot broth as needed.

7. Stir in cilantro, season with salt, pepper and sugar to taste. (I initially thought it odd that there wasn’t a measurement for the brown sugar, and even thought about leaving it out. You can definitely tell a difference though. The sugar should be added, as it helps bring all of the flavors together.

8. Serve with lemon wedges. (An instruction I ignored.)

So there you have it.  An easy and delicious Moroccan Chicken Stew.

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(One last note.  The recipe above is designed for a 6-quart Crock-Pot.  Mine is about half that size.  So I did what any reasonable person would do, and halved the recipe.  It mostly worked out fine, although I think that the flavors ended up a bit milder than they would have had we made the full recipe—with the full complement of spices.)

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