No one ever cooks for me any more. (Of course, I’m a chef, which probably explains it — so don’t feel too sorry for me.) But I have vivid childhood memories of coming home from school to a house that smelled delicious — like someone had been cooking dinner, just for me, all day long. It’s a powerful, primal memory of home and of feeling secure and cared for.
Writing The Mexican Slow Cooker brought that feeling back. I was amazed at how versatile and easy to use my slow cookers were. I still use them constantly (guilty secret: I own six!) I love coming home after a long day to a house filled with the aroma of a homemade comida — maybe a tasty chicken soup or rich, delicious beef barbacoa or pozole. I often cook tender shredded chicken (easy to make into tacos or burritos) or a batch of chile-spiked beans, perfectly cooked and so delicious they can be a meal in themselves.
Best of all, I am in complete control of what my family eats. We’re big on organic meats and vegetables, healthy fats and just the right amount of seasoning.
Mexican food is uniquely well-suited to slow-cooker adaptation. Many traditional dishes get their succulence and amazing depth of flavor from hours of low, slow simmering on the stove. Inexpensive meats become tender and juicy as they slow-cook in their own juices with chiles, onions, garlic and herbs.
Not many of us have all day to tend a pot on the stove, but by using your slow-cooker, you will achieve the same authentically delicious results with a fraction of the effort, even if you don’t consider yourself a “cook.”
Slow cookers are relatively inexpensive, so you may want to have a couple, perhaps in different sizes. The new models do almost everything but cut up the vegetables for you. If yours is more than a few years old, consider upgrading to a cooker with a digital timer and low, high and automatic warm settings. (The automatic warm setting is a saving grace when you are delayed.) I prefer an earthenware insert. Food cooks evenly, and I like the throwback to the old days when everything was cooked in simple clay pots bubbling away by the side of the fire.
Mole Manchamanteles: Red Mole with Chicken and Fried Plantains
6 chicken breasts or 12 chicken thighs
(about 4 pounds)
4 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 cup peeled, diced fresh pineapple (see Note)
1/2 apple, peeled and diced
1/4 cup whole shelled almonds
1/4 cup seedless raisins
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 white onion, diced
2 small Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons whole dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or water, or more as needed
Toasted sesame seeds
3/4 cup peeled, finely diced fresh pineapple (see Note)
Fried Plantains (recipe follows)
Place all the ingredients except the chicken in a 5-quart slow cooker, and set the chicken on top. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours, or until the chicken is tender but not falling off the bone. Remove the chicken. If you like, you can remove the skin and bones now, or you can serve it as is. Set the chicken on a warm platter covered with aluminum foil to keep warm while you finish the mole.
Transfer the remaining contents of the slow cooker to a blender. Blend on high for several minutes, until perfectly smooth. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more chicken broth or water and blend again. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary, remembering that moles are rich and thick but are never highly seasoned. For the perfect texture, pass the sauce through a food mill, but it is perfectly acceptable straight out of the blender.
To serve, liberally ladle the mole over the chicken. Lightly dust with the sesame seeds and garnish each serving with a few pieces of pineapple and fried plantain.
Note: Canned pineapple may be substituted for fresh as long as it is well drained. If you are using it as a garnish, sauté the pieces quickly in a hot pan until dry and almost caramelized.
For the best results, use soft, ripe plantains with black skin.
2 large, ripe plantains
About 1/3 cup vegetable oil
Kosher or sea salt
Peel the plantains and cut into rounds 1 inch thick. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a small, heavy skillet. Working in batches, fry the plantains on both sides until a light brown crust forms. Remove and let cool slightly, then flatten gently with a spatula to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Return the plantains to the oil and cook until brown. Drain well on paper towels and serve warm, sprinkled with a few grains of salt.
Learn more about Deborah Schneider at chefdeborahschneider.com.