Slow Cooker Chicken & Sausage Stew

Let me just preface this by saying, "I know." I know this is not a dump-n-go slow cooker recipe, and yes, I know I bill myself as a dump-n-go kinda girl, but I think this one is worth the effort. Because although, yes, there is some pre-cooking involved (am I at shock & awe yet?), you will be richly rewarded with a stew that does not taste like it came out of your slow cooker. Nope. This is more of the "simmering all day on the stovetop in a wildly expensive Dutch oven" taste. Does this appeal to you? Read on.

Before my surgery, I decided to torture myself by picking up the America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. Just to make myself feel bad, you know? I couldn't resist this when I saw it at Costco - I love my Crock-Pot and am constantly looking for new, tasty material. ATK tests the hell out of every recipe, and although, yes, many of their recipes involve machinations, they are usually worth it (See, for example, cooking the apples before you put them in your apple pie crust. This is to prevent shrinkage so that your pie is filled to the brim with sweet juicy apples. Genius.).

So the other day, I embarked on this recipe with an open mind. I grumbled as I browned and cooked the veggies, but this came out great. And to bolster my case - I did all the cleanup after I got the ingredients in the Crock-Pot, so all I had to do post-dinner was load the bowls & plates into the dishwasher and wipe up. Ta-daaa!

Slow Cooker Chicken & Sausage Stew (adapted from the ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. spicy chicken italian sausage links, cut into 1/2-in. thick pieces (do not get the pre-cooked ones for this!)
2 onions, chopped
1 fennel bulb, top discarded, halved, cored and sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 T. tomato paste
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/8 t. red pepper flakes
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. dry white wine (or my favorite secret substitute, vermouth)
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth, plus more to thin the recipe as needed
2 bay leaves
2 (15-oz.) cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (remember, Eden Organics has no BPA in their liners!)
8 oz. baby kale, or chopped kale (remove thick stems prior to chopping)
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

 

Dry the chicken and season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and brown the chicken on both sides. Transfer to the slow cooker. You will probably have to do this in two batches.

Add the sausage to the skillet, brown it well, and transfer it to the slow cooker.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and add the onions, fennel, garlic, tomato paste, thyme and red pepper flakes and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned. Add those to the slow cooker.

Lower the heat to low, and add the flour to the skillet. Stir it for about 30 seconds, and then slowly whisk in the wine/vermouth, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Whisk in 1 cup of broth, smooth out any lumps, and transfer this to the slow cooker. Stir the remaining 3 cups of broth and bay leaves into the slow cooker.

Cover and cook for 6 hours on low.

Skim the fat off the top of the stew using a large spoon and discard the bay leaves.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and shred it into bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken back to the slow cooker, and also add the beans and kale (You will need to stir in the kale 'til wilted - it will dramatically decrease in volume. You may need additional broth here to thin the consistency of the stew). Turn the cooker up to high and let warm through, about 30 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with Parmesan (and a lot of crusty bread, if you like that sort of thing).

Serves 6 to 8.