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Hugh Acheson's catfish stew from "The Chef and the Slow Cooker." Courtesy of Clarkson Potter

5 Questions With “The Chef and the Slow Cooker” Author, Hugh Acheson

Hugh Acheson—chef, author, and father—shares slow cooker tips and recipes for chilly winter nights.

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Set it and forget it. With a slogan that simple and effective, and an easy-to-use device to match, it’s no wonder the slow cooker has stood the test of time. The kitchen tool that makes it easy for busy families to get a warm meal on the table after a hectic day is going through a culinary renaissance. Hugh Acheson, culinary director of Punch Bowl Social on Broadway and author of The Chef and the Slow Cooker, has been reaping the benefits of the slow cooker for years. In late December, he made a stop at Denver’s Punch Bowl Social to sign books, field slow cooker questions, and, of course, serve tacos.

Here are some of the lessons we gleaned from Acheson’s event, all proceeds of which went to Seed Life Skills, his nonprofit that aims to provide kids with real life skills.

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Colorado Parent:
What did your kitchen look like while you were recipe testing this book?
Hugh Acheson:
I actually tested the book at Five & Ten, my main restaurant. It’s only open for dinner, so my team and I had a fair amount of space during the day to work. We had like five or six slow cookers out at all times doing various things; timing them, prepping them, and then we would plate up. We kept one as a preliminary shaping of a recipe, got it down on paper, and tested it again when we did photography. So we did a number of editions of one dish before we photographed it, but we documented each different trial and tribulation that we went through to get to the final picture.
Colorado Parent:
What was a dish that you were surprised a slow cooker could do?
Hugh Acheson:
There’s a West African catfish stew (recipe below) in the book. You usually don’t think of fish in slow cookers but slow cookers provide this amazing poaching environment, so they’re really good for soups. It’s a two-step process because you’re creating this really vibrant broth over the course of the day and then finishing in the last half hour with the catfish. Even better, catfish is really sustainable.
Colorado Parent:
Have you found anything a slow cooker can’t do?
Hugh Acheson:
People try to do things that to me are just silly, like why would you make brownies in a slow cooker? Just get a pan out and do it there. To me, the slow cooker is good for re-accessing time and safely walking away from the stove for hours on end to get other things done.
Colorado Parent:
You have two daughters, what are their favorite things you make in the slow cooker?
Hugh Acheson:
The ubiquitous pot roast always goes over really well. We just modernize it with a little salad on top. I also make a farro and chicken stew that is always loved. They love kimchi chicken (recipe below) if I don’t tell them it’s kimchi; it’s got a real pronounced flavor in it. There are just so many things you can do in it. There’s so much flexibility to it. Parents have to realize that they can make amazingly home cooked meals that are still thrifty and smartly budgeted.
Colorado Parent:
What inspired you to start your nonprofit, Seed Life Skills?
Hugh Acheson:
I started it three years ago when my daughter Beatrice was in grade six and had gone through family and consumer sciences (similar to home economics) the first day, and came home and goes, “We need to chat.” She made stuff in that class that just didn’t seem applicable to life. Making red velvet cupcakes is nice, but we need to equip kids with real life skills on how to get by every day, and I don’t think that involves making red velvet cupcakes. That’s a treat to learn later in life, maybe.
I called the superintendent and we started chatting. He asked me if I wanted to create a curriculum that they could use, and I said yes. It has a lot of cooking to it, but it also includes sustainability, recycling, how to cook from scratch—like roasting a chicken, roasting carrots, making rice, making vinaigrette. If you learn core techniques, then you have the ability to cobble together something, but if you know technique-based food, you can cook a lot of things.
(The class) also teaches kids how to read a cell phone contract,—which not many people know how to do—read a lease, be financially accountable, and how to fix basic things versus just throwing it away. It’s not going to teach a kid how to fix a VCR, but it is going to teach a kid the value of looking intrinsically into that decision, whether you’re going to dispose of it or fix it.

Slow Cooker Recipes from Hugh Acheson

Slow cooker recipes are a must in the winter when you want to come home to a warm meal, but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen at night. During those months when the sun sets by 4:30 or 5 p.m., it’s easy to feel like the day has slipped away before you’ve even put dinner on the table. Below, Acheson shares two tasty recipes, from The Chef and the Slow Cooker, perfect for chilly winter nights.

Hugh Acheson’s kimchi chicken from “The Chef and the Slow Cooker.” Courtesy of Clarkson Potter

Kimchi-Braised Chicken

A favorite with Acheson’s kids.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Pat the chicken pieces dry and season them all over with kosher salt. Place the largest skillet you have over medium heat and add the canola oil. When the oil is shimmering, place the chicken in the pan, skin-side down, and cook for 10 minutes, until the skin is crisp and much of the fat has rendered off. Flip the pieces over and cook for 3 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a plate and add the shallots and ginger to the skillet. Cook for 3 minutes, until softened, and then add the sake, raise the heat to high, and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Transfer the shallot mixture to a slow cooker, and then add the broth and the crisped chicken pieces; season with salt. Add 1½ cups of the chopped kimchi and the soy sauce, cover the lid, and cook on the low setting for 4 hours.
  3. Add the red pepper flakes and lime juice to the slow cooker, and stir to combine. Serve the chicken from the cooker family-style, or arrange it on individual plates, along with the rice, some pickles, and the remaining kimchi.

Catfish Stew

slow cooker size: 4+ quarts
serves 4 to 6
prep time: 45 minutes
cook time: 4 hours and 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into a food processor and pulse to break them down a bit.
    Set a slow cooker to the high setting. Add the bacon and cook until most of the fat has rendered, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook for 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. (Alternatively, this can be done in a large skillet over medium heat; cook the bacon for 10 minutes, the onion, bell pepper, and celery for 2, then the garlic for 1, and place it all in the slow cooker.)
  2. Add the tomatoes, cloves, mace, allspice, clam juice, stock, potatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt to the slow cooker. Cover with the lid, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 4 hours or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
    Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt.
  3. Season the catfish pieces with salt, add them to the slow cooker, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the butter to the cooker and stir it in gently. Then ladle the stew into a soup tureen or directly into individual bowls. Garnish with the parsley and banana peppers, and finish with a grind of black pepper and additional salt to taste. (Somewhere in those plates there will be 4 whole cloves. You can pick them out, or live on the edge.)

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