Every once in a while, the easy efficiency of a slow-cooker meal can be a trade-off for complex and sophisticated flavor. Not so with this recipe. It requires a little bit of work on the front end (browning meat and sauteing veggies), but the final result is a meal that we would be quite pleased to be served at a restaurant in New Orleans, and it’s one of our favorite slow-cooker dishes to date. Not surprisingly, the recipe comes from one of our go-to sources for excellent cooking — America’s Test Kitchen — specifically, their book “Slow Cooker Revolution.” We have tried several recipes from this book (including Smothered Pork Chops) and enjoyed each of them, this chicken and rice most of all so far.
The ingredients include vegetable or canola oil, kielbasa sausage, onion, celery, red bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, thyme, chili powder, cayenne pepper, flour, chicken broth, chicken thighs, salt & pepper, instant rice and green onions.
Start by prepping all the veggies: chop up the onion and 2 celery ribs, remove the stem and seeds from the red pepper and chop the pepper into small pieces, mince about 4 cloves of garlic, chop up a tablespoon of fresh thyme (or use a teaspoon of dried thyme if you don’t have any fresh) and add 2 teaspoons of chili powder and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. We decided to add a little extra spice and depth of flavor with a chopped jalapeno (seeds and white rib parts removed.)
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add about 8 ounces of kielbasa sausage (cut into 1/2 inch rounds) and brown it.
Cook the sausage until browned on both sides — about 5-7 minutes total.
Add the onion, celery, jalapeno, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, chili powder and cayenne to the skillet with the browned kielbasa.
Cook the veggies until they are soft and lightly browned — about 8-10 minutes.
Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of flour over the veggies and sausage, stir it all together and cook for about a minute.
Slowly add about 1.5 cups of chicken broth to the skillet while scraping up any browned bits and smoothing any lumps of flour. Transfer the mixture to the slow-cooker.
The recipe calls for 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of visible fat and seasoned with salt and pepper. If you can’t find boneless thighs, you could also use bone-in thighs (which usually also have skin on them), but you’ll probably want to remove the skin and cut the chicken away from the bone after the chicken is cooked and before serving.
Add the chicken to the slow-cooker, nestling it down in the sauce with the sausage. Cover the slow-cooker and cook on low until the chicken is tender — about 4-6 hours.
When the chicken is done, break it up into bite-sized pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon or spatula. If you used bone-in thighs, this would be a good time to remove the skin from the chicken and cut it off the bone. It should be really tender and easy to break apart.
Stir in 2 cups of instant rice and about a teaspoon of salt, then cover the slow-cooker, turn the heat to high, and cook until the rice is tender — about 20-30 minutes. One of the many reasons we love America’s Test Kitchen as a resource for good recipes is that they do all the testing for you. They tested a bunch of different types of rice and determined that instant rice worked best in the slow-cooker, in terms of cooking evenly and helping the ingredients to bind together in the finished dish. We probably never would have tried instant rice if they hadn’t recommended it.
Serve the chicken and rice in low bowls, garnished with chopped green onions (green and light green parts.) This recipe furthers our ongoing love affair with chicken thighs — the most flavorful part of the chicken by far, in our opinion. Cooking the chicken on low for several hours makes it deliciously tender, and pairing it with the smoky kielbasa and rich, broth-soaked rice makes this one of our all-time most-craved slow-cooker dishes. Just seeing the photos and writing this post reminds us how good it was and makes us want to cook up a batch right now.