Monday, March 29, 2010

Week Nine: White Chicken Chili

Midwestern springs are never a linear affair. They trot out days or weeks of weak but warm sun, then plunge us into cold grey drippiness, just to show us who's boss. (I think of those icky stretches as Mother Nature's version of a swirlie.) During those winterish bursts, I wear my favorite sweaters one more time and scramble to make soups and stews before the weather gets too nice again.

Last week, with the weather in a wintry phase and company in town, I turned to an old standby: White Chicken Chili, made in a crock-pot. It's the only way I've ever made it, and my recipe was developed from one I found online, most likely on the excellent Year of Slow Cooking.

As usual, I had all the major ingredients on hand: frozen chicken breasts, white beans, green chiles, chicken stock, onions, garlic. I'd always wondered, though, what would happen if I sauteed the onions and garlic with the spices instead of throwing them in the pot in all their raw, harsh glory. Usually, I combined the spices with half a cup of flour and tossed the cut-up chicken in it, but I'd never had much faith in the thickening power of that approach. Thus, I decided the time was ripe to double up the messing.

My general approach to any scenario involving onions, spices, garlic and heat is a few glugs of olive oil, medium-low heat, onions first, then spices, then garlic because I've heard it's easy to burn and turns bitter when it does.Once again, I was up early, so I had plenty of time to do all that, handle the rest of the prep, and monitor my and my guest's caffeine levels.

The rest of the recipe was your standard crock-pot affair, so elemental and non-cookish it seems like cheating: thaw the chicken enough to cut into chunks, open a bunch of cans, dump, dump, stir, set the timer, go to work, eat. (A note on the timer: I've found that chicken gets a weird grainy-mushy texture when it's overcooked in a crock-pot, so I put mine on a light timer if I'm using it during the week.)

Aside from the appearance of this recipe, which is so unappealing that I can't bring myself to inflict it on you, it always turns out well. This time was no different, and the sauteed onions and garlic gave it a nice depth. It wasn't as thick as usual, but that didn't bother me or my guest.

Deliciousness: We ate it for dinner three nights in a row, and not just because we were too tired to order takeout.

Difficulty: I suppose not burning the onions, garlic and spices requires some skill, but you should know by now I don't make really difficult stuff.

Do-Over: Duh.


3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can each chicken broth and green chiles
2 cans Great Northern beans, drained
2 t. cumin
1/2 t. each oregano and coriander
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
2 bay leaves
salt, chili powder and/or cayenne to taste

Ultra-quick way: Stick everything in a crock-pot, stir, cook for 4 hours on low. Serve with sour cream and corn chips.

Slightly longer way:
Over medium-low heat, saute onions in 2 or 3 T. olive oil until soft and a tiny bit brown, about 10 minutes. Add all spices except chili powder, cayenne and bay leaves; saute 5 minutes more. Add garlic and let it go 5 or10 minutes longer, making sure nothing's burning and adding more oil as necessary to prevent sticking.

Meanwhile, put everything else in the crock-pot; add the onion-spice mixture, stir again, and cook 4 hours on low. Serve with sour cream and corn chips.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since I was the out of town company referred to above, I feel that I am qualified to comment on this dish. It was, indeed, delicious enough to eat 3 nights in a row without tiring of the nicely complex blending of flavors. White corn-chips crumbled onto the chili completed the flavor and texture presentation for me. We are still having cooler nights which could be gently warmed by this satisfying, slightly-spicey chil-- even if made in a pot on the stove or in a casserole in a slow oven.
Mango Mama