I do an English lesson occasionally from an old textbook called "Speaking for Communication." The lesson basically has students look at a picture, describe it, read a paragraph about the picture, then answer some questions. One of the pictures is of an old stove with a bottle of soy sauce, a saucepan, and a coffeepot on it. To the right of the old stove is a slow cooker (or "Crock Pot" as it is known by many people). When my students describe this picture, they invariably look at the slow cooker and say, "rice cooker?" Such is an indication of the popularity of slow cookers in Japan.
I didn't even know you could get a slow cooker anywhere in Japan up until about 2 years ago. I found out that the Foreign Buyer's Club offers them through it's Deli store for a very reasonable price (about 5000 yen). I bought one for my boss for his birthday a few years back and shortly thereafter got one for myself.
The benefits of using a slow cooker, particularly for foreigners who don't often make an investment in an oven, are plentiful. You can set up the cooker before you leave for work and let it cook all day for some dishes. Also, there are a lot of dishes that would require an oven which can be made in a slow cooker. For instance, you can make bread, cakes and bar cookies in a slow cooker with the help of a greased coffee can. You can make a lot of the type of meat dishes that are usually baked in an oven. It's great in the winter for stews and an easy way to make a large enough portion to ensure leftovers for the following evening's meal. You can also use one in the summer and not heat up your apartment or slave over the stove. It's generally a slice, dice, and spice then forget it for several hours affair.
I've had a Crock Pot for a little over a year now and have been relatively incompetent in making what I'd consider "good" dishes with it. Last night, I experienced my first unbridled success. I researched slow cooker tips and discovered an important point that I'd overlooked before. A slow cooker does a much better job if you use it to cook meat that still is on the bone.
This presents a somewhat tricky situation for us in Japan compared to those in the U.S. In Japan, meat is usually sold boneless with skin. In the U.S., it's usually sold skinless with the bone. I'm guessing one could probably get cuts of chicken with bone (and without skin is best if you want to reduce fat) from local butchers if one was inclined to ask and to pay a bit more.
The most common form of chicken sold on the bone in Japanese markets is tiny little legs in 4 or 6 packs. We bought a pack of 4 of these and cooked them with some larger pieces to see how they fared. For the record, they did fine, but I'm guessing the overall cooking time can be reduced if you only use these tiny legs. Additionally, I would never cook such small pieces skinless.
My husband secured some adequately-sized leg-thigh combination pieces from a local market so I was ready to dive in with a modification of a recipe I found on Epicurious. The original recipe was fussy in its preparation and called for ingredients I didn't have. It also was in large enough quantities that the two of us could never eat it in two nights.
Slow Cooker Chicken Paprikash:
- 4 large pieces of chicken with bone (skinless if desired)
- 2 medium onions (thinly-sliced)
- 2 cloves of garlic (peeled and cut in half)
- 1-2 tbsp. butter
- 2 tbsp. paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 can (approx. 3/4 cup) chicken soup stock
- 2-3 chicken consomme or bouillon cubes
- 1 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2-3 tbsp. cold water
- 50 grams (about 2 tbsp.) sour cream
Note that the sauce preparation step might be a little slow in the cooker itself if you cooked on low or if it isn't all that hot on the high setting with the lid off. It may be faster to pour the sauce and onions into a saucepan for thickening.
Incidentally, chicken stock, which is necessary for this recipe, is not sold in most Japanese markets but you can buy it at Costco (99% fat-free McCormick brand) or from the Foreign Buyer's Club. You have to buy a case at a time but it's very handy for a variety of recipes (including homemade curry and the potato and onion soup I previously posted a recipe for). You can freeze portions of a can for later use if the recipe doesn't call for its entire contents. If you just can't be bothered to find canned stock, you can make it yourself by boiling chicken bones or parts. The easiest route though is to modify the recipe by using 3/4 cup of very hot water and 3 consomme or bouillon cubes for the stock and omit adding them later when you add the cornstarch.
My husband loved this. I liked it and thought the flavor was excellent, but I'm not a great fan of dark meat. The onions were incredible prepared this way. They were sweet and silky. I think the sauce would be great on potatoes and will probably try it with them when we have leftovers this evening. As it was, it went great with carrots.