Every winter, I fall in love all over again with my slow cooker. Walking in after a tough day at work, I’m greeted by the olfactory equivalent of a big hug. It’s like someone has got in before me and started cooking, leaving me just to put the kettle on and sit down with the paper for half an hour before I start on the side dishes.
Slow cooking is as old as cooking itself. It’s origins are from when fires used to be kept alive 24 hours a day not only for cooking, but for warmth and protection. Beans and pulses collected and dried during late summer, were put into a cauldron over a fire with water (or beer!) and herbs and left to bubble away all day. Sometimes this soup would be flavoured with a small piece of gammon or some bacon fat being lowered into it which was also left to cook – this was our early soup, known as pottage and was devoured by hungry people as their main meal of the day. Slow cooked meat was cooked on the embers of a fire from the day before – a hole was dug and lined with bricks and all of the embers were put on the bricks. The meat was wrapped in large leaves and put on top of the bricks and then the dry soil/sand was put on top of the meat and left all day to cook underground. A lot of hassle for slow cooked meat! Hurrah for slow cookers!
The best tasting meats take a long time to cook, making them release their natural fats, flavours and juices – melting away any fat which flavours the meat, basting as it goes ensuring that the whole joint is flavoured as it makes its lazy way out. The resulting meat falls apart and is definitely not for carving – rustic meals rule!
I like to add a bit more to our roast chickens to make the meat super tasty for left overs during the week and I like to use butter to emulate the fat that would melt through a fatty cut of meat. This week we’re having Chilli & Garlic chicken because everything tastes better with chilli!
Take a couple of cloves of garlic, around 50g – 100g butter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1-2 cloves garlic crushed, 1tsp fresh ground pepper and 1 or more tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (turkish chillies are semi dried and flaked without seeds or membrane, making a sweet semi hot chilli flake, substitue with normal chilli flakes if you can’t find them but use less as they will be hotter).
Blast the butter in the microwave to soften and mash the other ingredients into it.
Using your hands (or a spoon if you’re squeamish) paste the flavoured butter inside the cavity of the chicken, making sure you cover all areas, reaching in as far as you can. If you have a lemon, cut it in half and squeeze half of it inside the chicken then place both halves of the lemon inside the cavity along with the top leaves of some leeks if you have them, or some parsley stalks or the outer peelings of onion skin (not the papery part). You can use an onion that has started to go a little soft if you need to use it up, or some dried out spring onions! Or you can just leave it at the flavoured butter. There is no right or wrong. Place a piece of silicon paper in the base of the slow cooker and smear any leftover butter from your hands or spoon onto it.
Place the chicken breast side down onto the paper in the slow cooker. The paper is there to protect the chicken from the base of the slow cooker – you could use a couple of celery sticks if you prefer to lift it away from the base.
Tuck another piece of silicon paper around the chicken – this creates another seal, apart from the lid which will keep all of the precious flavoured steam underneath.
Cook for 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Half way through cooking you can turn the chicken the right way up, so that the meat underneath is flavoured too.
When your chicken is cooked, baste it well with the juices at the bottom of the pot and lift it carefully into a heated dish.
Pour the juices from the pot into a casserole dish and add some peeled new potatoes. Toss them around. Put the lid on and cook them in a hot oven 200C for around 30 minutes. Take the lid off and gently turn them over. Cook them for another 20 minutes (or until done) with the lid off. These won’t be crispy roast potatoes because they are a super tasty version of fondant potatoes – waxy and deeply savoury, which instead of being cooked in butter and stock are cooked in butter and chicken juices. Believe me, they’re delicious!
Enjoy with veg of your choice, or just with crusty bread!