This hands-off slow cooker meal brings great flavor to the table with tremendous ease. The recipe is also flexible, allowing for several complementary substitutions and additions.
For many years, I owned a slow cooker that I hardly used. It was my grandmother’s old Crock Pot, and it had a small crack down the side of the ceramic insert. While it still functioned, I eventually stopped using it. I knew that, one day, the small crack would turn into a big crack and our dinner would be all over the counter!
For Christmas several years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a brand new model that I have put to work more than I ever did my grandmother’s relic. From breakfast to dessert options, I’ve discovered a myriad of uses for it that travel far beyond the beef stew that was my original Crock Pot meal.
I make no firm claims as to the ethnic authenticity of the following recipe, yet this speedy version of an Indian classic has become a go-to dinner for me on a busy day. It’s great for casual weekend dinners with friends, too. The prep can be completed in a flash, and then the slow cooker takes over. The incredible aroma belies the ease of this comforting meal.
The complexity of this dish comes from a spice that may be new to some: garam masala. Like curry powder, garam masala is not just one spice, but a blend of many, including cumin, coriander, cardamom and cloves. Available in the spice aisle of most large grocery stores, smaller (and extremely fresh) quantities are available at the Herb Shop at Lancaster’s Central Market, for those of you who live nearby. Many stores also make it possible to buy small amounts by selling spices in bulk.
Instead of using cream, I substitute coconut milk for a healthier spin on the traditional recipe. (If you don’t care for coconut, rest assured. My husband is not a big fan and has yet to detect the swap.) I also like to garnish with mint instead of the more commonly used cilantro. It adds a fresh flavor and is a great option for those who find cilantro to be a bit too pungent. A bit of chopped cucumber adds a crisp finish and a nice counterbalance in texture.
Helpful hint: Hate to open a can of tomato paste for just a small amount?
A 6-ounce can of tomato paste contains approximately 10 tablespoons of paste. (You might think that number should be 12, but tomato paste is sold by weight, not by volume. Since it’s denser than water, the volume of 6 ounces of tomato paste is less than 6 fluid ounces.)
In a freezer bag, simply smoosh the unused paste into equal portions based on the number of tablespoon left in the can. (A butter knife works well.) Then freeze, and when needed, break off what you need!
As an option, you can scoop tablespoon-size mounds onto a pan lined with parchment paper and freeze. Once frozen solid, peel the mounds off of the parchment and transfer to a freezer bag or container and store in the freezer until needed.
Yields approximately 6 servings.
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce (or about 2 cups homemade)
- 1/2 cup light or regular coconut milk (see notes)
- 1 large onion, chopped or sliced
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (see notes)
- 2 teaspoons garam masala (an Indian spice blend; see notes)
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8-10, depending on size; could substitute chicken breasts)
- Cooked rice for serving
- Optional garnishes: chopped or sliced cucumber, fresh mint, and/or cilantro
In a slow cooker, combine the tomato sauce, coconut milk, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, sugar, salt (I use about 3/4 teaspoon) and several turns of the pepper mill.
Place the chicken on top, flipping to moisten with the sauce. I put a few of the onion slices on top of the chicken as well.
Cover and cook until the chicken is tender, 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low.
Remove the chicken to a plate, and shred the meat with two dinner forks. Stir the shredded meat back into the sauce and rewarm for a few more minutes.
Serve over the cooked rice and garnish with cucumbers and fresh herbs, as desired.
- If you prefer to use cream in place of the coconut milk, or that is simply what you have on hand, stir it in at the end of the cooking time.
- Tubes of tomato paste are handy when using small amounts. If using a can, you may freeze the unused portion in one-tablespoon “globs” or in an ice cube tray for future use.
- This recipe is designed to be kid-friendly and not overwhelm with spices. For more flavor, you may add an extra teaspoon or two of the garam masala and a minced jalapeño pepper or cayenne pepper for heat.
…and below is one of my very early blog photos!
I use my crock pot at least once a week. I was looking for something new and since I don’t usually have Indian flavors in my regular dinner fare, this really caught my eye. I tried this recently and it was divine! Huge hit. It’s going into the regular meal rotation. I served with basmati rice, naan bread and a little chutney. I forgot the herbs and cucumber on top, but we have leftovers and I plan to remember then. As always, thanks for the fabulous recipes.
I’m thrilled you tried and liked, Amie. Thanks so much for your comment and glad these will be added to the regular rotation!
Oh – and I took the extra coconut milk and made the rice with half water/half coconut milk. Great extra flavor! Thanks again!
Very good! So glad you encouraged us to try the garam masala as we’re not crazy about curry powder. Thanks for your informative notes and engaging way of presenting recipes… Keeps even us older cooks wanting to learn and renew our outlook on cooking.
Such a thoughtful comment, Carolyn… thank you! I’m so glad yo tried and liked.
This might be the recipe that makes me buy a slow cooker. Has anyone tried using greek yogurt for the coconut milk/cream or do you really need that amount of fat to make this work?
I haven’t tried Greek yogurt in this recipe and would love to know if someone has. I think it would work to stir it in at the very end, although it may create a hint of tartness that the coconut milk (or cream) wouldn’t do. If you do buy that slow cooker and try it, please report back!
OMG this is so good! I just made it. Added the entire can of coconut milk for more juice. Absolutely fabulous. Could not believe how easy this was. Thanks for a great recipe!
Yay! I’m thrilled this was a success, Paula. Somewhere over the years I have been making this I also began adding extra coconut milk–and garam masala. You can’t go wrong!
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I made this on Sunday and we liked it! I managed to skin and de-bone the chicken thighs..
My sauce seemed thin, is that the consistency it should be?
Way to go on the skinning and deboning! As for the sauce, mine is not too thin. Recently, I cooked some chicken thighs that produced a lot of liquid when I baked them. I noticed this because it was far more than I typically get. I wonder if the same thing happened to you and it thinned the sauce a bit. In the future, you could add another tablespoon or two of tomato paste or cook for a half hour or so with the slow cooker lid removed. This will cook off some of the extra moisture. I hope this helps!
This recipe looks fantastic! Your friend Elizabeth England sent me your site for the baked oatmeal but now I can’t decide which recipe to do first! I am a follower!
You made my day, Renee! Please tell Elizabeth we were THRILLED to bump into her and spend some time together. My husband and I commented that there really is no better way to catch up with old friends than a long walk on the beach! I hope you enjoy both recipes and so appreciate the comment!
That answers my question perfectly Ann! and it makes sense. Next trip to grocery I will get some of the canned light coconut milk.
I have another recipe that calls for coconut milk so i will stock up on it!
Think I will try the recipe this weekend. I have chicken thighs in freezer, but I think they need to be skinned and boned. That is always daunting to me. :0
You could certainly make this recipe with the bone-in chicken, Mary Lou. The boneless, skinless thighs or breasts do make it easy and a bit healthier though. You can shred the chicken easily right in the slow cooker, if desired, when there are no bones: )
Ann, question on the coconut milk, does it matter if it is the canned variety or the kind that comes in the Tetra pak? That is what I have on hand, in my fridge.
I always purchase the canned, but I imagine what you have would work. The only difference I can think of is if it is the kind used for drinking. Then it would be a less concentrated version so would be akin to using nonfat milk versus cream. I hope that helps!
Ooh another one to line up for crockpot. I love Garam Masala too!
My pleasure…this one ranks up there with your soup recipe, Mary Lou!
I love all things Indian – good thing since my hubby is from India. He would love your tikka masala recipes. I love that you made it in a crock pot! Thanks for sharing on Thursdays Treasures.
I love that your Indian husband would approve, Christie! I felt the need to make no claims to authenticity since I was adjusting based on taste, healthfulness, and ease of preparation. Your stamp of approval is a bonus…thank you!
This looks wonderful Ann! Can’t wait to see you soon!
Thank you, Sonali, and we are sooooo excited!
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This sounds so good, Ann! and, easy…4 steps, and BAM done!! Love it and you always come thru w/a creative twist…the mint garnish is sticking w/the ethnic (Middle Eastern, Lebanese, etc.) slant! Good choice 🙂 xo
Thank you very much, Ally! Compliments from you always make me hold my head especially high: ) xo