If you're a longtime reader of Kitchn, no doubt you have come across Faith's chicken ragù with bacon in the years since it was first published. This is one of those magical recipes whose flavor is inversely related to the number of ingredients and effort required to prepare it. A favorite among editors here at Kitchn, it's hard to believe it has taken us this long to revisit it.
While pork or beef ragùs regularly cross our tables, the transition into spring calls for swapping in something a bit lighter here: chicken.
Ragùs are thick sauces usually made from tough cuts of pork or beef that are slowly braised, rendering juicy and tender meat that falls apart. Here, we take the same technique, a low-and-slow simmer, and use chicken thighs instead. If you are used to picking up a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts each week, your wallet and your taste buds may be pleasantly surprised when you reach for thighs instead.
Shop smart: A First-Timer's Guide to Buying Chicken Thighs
What sets this ragù apart is the fennel, whose flavor is akin to licorice or anise. Do not pass this recipe by even if you are averse to anise; I assure you that slow cooked fennel mellows becoming earthy and slightly sweet.
Kitchn's original iteration of chicken ragù was a straightforward Dutch oven braise. Adapting a Dutch oven recipe to the slow cooker takes only a few simple tricks. The first and most important tip is to add less liquid to a slow cooker recipe than a Dutch oven recipe. While chicken broth is the obvious contributor to liquid levels, consider that the chicken thighs, fennel, and onion also release moisture as they cook. For stovetop cooking, we count on a significant amount of evaporation while we stand nearby monitoring the liquid level. In contrast, the slow cooker traps the liquid, making the potential for evaporation null.
A Dutch oven braise usually starts by searing the meat to develop rich, caramelized flavors. Since this is a step that the slow cooker cannot replicate on its own, take a few minutes to crisp the bacon and brown the thighs before letting the slow cooker do its job. Once everything is in the slow cooker, step away for a few hours until the thighs are tender enough to shred. A bed of buttery mashed potatoes cradles this comforting homestyle chicken ragù.
More tips for switching from stovetop to slow cooker: 5 Tips for Converting Dutch Oven Recipes to a Slow Cooker
More Ragù Recipes from Kitchn
Slow Cooker Chicken Bacon Ragù
thick-cut bacon, diced
small fennel bulb, fennel fronds reserved for garnish if attached, bulb diced
diced yellow onion
cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground black pepper
dry white wine
boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each one cut in half
1 1/4 cups
low-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 tablespoons
Serve with: Mashed potatoes, gnocchi, pasta, brown rice, or roasted vegetables
Place the bacon in a large skillet over low heat until the fat renders out and the bacon is crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
Stir in the fennel, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook over medium heat until soft and glistening, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Transfer the vegetables to a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker.
Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the chicken thigh pieces and sear until a light golden crust forms, about 3 minutes. The goal is simply to develop a little flavor and start the cooking. Transfer to the slow cooker. Add the chicken broth and tomato paste to the pan, whisk to combine, and pour over the chicken and vegetables.
Cover the slow cooker and cook on the LOW setting until tender enough to shred, 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours. Vigorously shred the chicken directly in the slow cooker with 2 forks until finely shredded. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve over mashed potatoes, gnocchi, pasta, brown rice, or roasted vegetables. Garnish with the fennel fronds.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 1 month.