I have a confession. I saw City Slickers in the theater at least a dozen times. I loved that movie. Yes, it was funny and actually had a moral to it, but that’s not why I saw it so many times.
It was my dream to do what they were doing. Not the cow herding part; that and the associated stink I could do without. But to ride a horse day after day, sleep under the stars and cook by campfire? I was enthralled.
The truth is that I was able to get a small taste of all those things during my years working for a wilderness camp in northern Wisconsin. I spent many nights sleeping on the beach along Lake Superior, watching the northern lights dance across the sky and counting shooting stars. I cooked dozens of meals over an open fire; roasting chicken on a spit, boiling potatoes in an enamel perched on rocks over the flames and eating every delicious bite with my scorched fingers.
I also rode horses. And I loved it. The feeling of being on a horse when it’s in a full-out run is indescribable. Or of sitting on its back during a meandering walk over a snow-covered trail, where the only thing you can hear is the muffled, rhythmic thud of its hooves.
But I was never able to merge all three things together for any period of time. And I regret that.
I’m twenty years older now, have a family and responsibilities. Unfortunately, I am not able to live the City Slickers adventure, but I can still dream.
As I put this stew together, it crossed my mind several times that this was the type of dish created for an iron pot over a low fire. It was the kind of thing a crew of homesteaders would eat after a day afield.
Isn’t it possible for middle class suburbia to meet wild west homestead?
Because this stew is cooked for so long, it is important to use chicken thighs. They can hold up to the lengthy simmer and still come out tender and juicy. Chicken breasts; not so much.
The chicken and bacon need at least some cooking prior to be putting in the cooker, but that can be done in the amount of time it takes to cut carrots, halve mushrooms, chop onions and mince garlic. It’s all a dance of timing and this is choreographed pretty well.
Begin by dredging the thighs in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Then, saute them until nicely browned and arrange them in the bottom of the pot. Add the chopped bacon and more flour. Cook the bacon for a few minutes, then add the Guinness. Ah, that got you perked up didn’t it.
Scrape up the bits in the skillet and then pour the mixture into the slow cooker. Spread the carrots, mushrooms, onion, garlic and some thyme over the chicken and cover it all with chicken broth. Turn it on and walk away.
The family was split on this. Dudette and I enjoyed it (me very, very much), but Hubby wasn’t sold. He said that it had some sort of aftertaste that he didn’t care for. Dudette chowed down on the chicken and peas, avoiding mushrooms at all cost and eating the one baby carrot I put on her plate grudgingly. I thought the flavor was very good (though I did add salt). The only negative I found was that the mushrooms picked up the bitterness of the beer quite a bit.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
I’m not a big fan of browning ‘unprotected’ chicken meat. It tends to make it hard and stringy. Instead of browning skinless thighs, I’d leave the skin on during browning so the flavor can be created and the brown bits put down in the pan, but then I’d peel them off and throw them away before putting the chicken in the cooker. This has the added benefit of adding a natural fat to the pan so the olive oil isn’t needed. A light spray of cooking oil and that’s all that’s needed.
Because of that bitterness factor in my beloved mushrooms, I’d also go with a lighter beer than a stout (which means I’d have to change the name, but that’s ok).
6 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 pieces bacon, chopped
1 2/3 cups Guinness beer or other stout (14-ounce can)
1 pound whole baby carrots or large carrots cut into 1-inch pieces
1 8-ounce package cremini or button mushrooms, halved if large
2 cups chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
Combine 6 tablespoons flour with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge chicken thighs in the mixture to coat completely; transfer to a plate.
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until well browned, 2 to 4 minutes per side; transfer to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Reduce heat to medium and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and chicken thighs. Arrange the chicken in an even layer in the slow cooker.
Add bacon to the pan and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup flour over the bacon and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more. Add stout and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the mixture over the chicken. Add carrots, mushrooms, onion, garlic and thyme, spreading in an even layer over the chicken. Pour broth over the top.
Cover and cook until the chicken is falling-apart tender, 4 hours on High or 7 to 8 hours on Low.
Stir in peas, cover and cook until the peas are heated through, 5 to 10 minutes more. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.
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