Main Course,  Recipes

Slow Cooked Chicken with Cannellini Beans, Fennel and Tomato

Slow cooked chicken with fennel and beans
Slow cooked chicken with fennel and beans

Slow cooker, crock pot, Dutch oven; call it what you will, but all of these vessels utilize the same cooking process; one that is low and slow and yields the ultimate in slow cooking satisfaction; a house filled with tantalizing smells, and a warm, hearty meal which is easy to cook and serve. We may be into Spring weather now, but there are still plenty of chilly days that have me yearning for something simmering. Unfamiliar with slow cooking? Below is a bit of a primer along with a recipe to get you started.

Is there a difference between a crock pot and slow cooker?
The answer is yes and no.
Both have independent electric heating elements and lids to keep the heat in, but “crock pots” heat from all sides and some “slow cookers” heat from the bottom only, often via a separate heating plate. Today, the term “Crock-Pot” (a brand name owned by the Rival Company) has become as commonplace as Kleenex. Other companies, like Cuisinart, KitchenAid, etc. make “slow cookers” which are essentially the same as a crock pot. For the purposes of this post we will assume they are interchangeable and heat from both the sides and the bottom.

Most slow cookers have removable ceramic inserts which make clean-up much easier than they used to be. When buying a slow cooker, look for one which offers the most flexibility in its features like the removable insert, a timer, and the ability to automatically switch to warm when done cooking. Others like this one from Hamilton Beach have extra features like a locking lid and handles for easy transportation, a thermometer to monitor meat temperature without lifting the lid, and specific temperature settings beyond just high and low.

The old school version of the slow cooker is the Dutch oven, which is typically a heavy cast iron casserole pan with a lid, sometimes covered with enamel like those made by Le Creuset. These are placed in the oven for cooking, or even over a wood fire in the case of bare cast iron pans. The plain cast iron Dutch ovens are hardy vessels and can be used for baking, roasting and even deep frying. The enameled pans have the advantage over plain cast iron in they don’t have to be seasoned, but they are typically much more expensive and should not be used for deep frying. The enameled versions also come in a multitude of colors and look nice going from oven to table. Many recipes for slow cookers can be made in the oven and conversely, recipes traditionally cooked in a Dutch oven can be adapted to work in a crock pot.

Personally, I have a very old model of crock pot, the one with just high and low and without a removable insert. Someday I’ll probably buy a larger slow cooker, one with a timer and temperature setting and a dishwasher safe insert. I also have a heavy duty Martha Stewart brand Dutch oven which works perfectly fine for me.

Tips for cooking in a Crock Pot, Slow Cooker or Dutch Oven:

  • The crock should be filled at least half full but not to the rim. Try to leave one to two inches from the top to allow any liquid to come to a simmer, especially if cooking something like soups or stews.
  • Try to resist lifting the lid while the food is cooking as this will release steam and heat and add to the cooking time. If you must give it a taste or check for doneness, do so quickly and close to the end of the cooking time. Confession; I often have a hard time with this tip.
  • Place harder, uncooked vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom of the crock and around the sides. Cut vegetables in uniform pieces so they cook evenly. Add softer vegetables, like peas or asparagus in the last half hour of cooking.
  • Not everything has to go into the crock pot raw. It’s worth it to spend a little extra time to brown a roast or sauté the onions first to get better flavor from the caramelization of the meat or vegetables in the long run. Cook ground beef and drain off the fat before adding to the slow cooker.
  • Add dairy products like milk, cheese or cream late in the cooking process (in the last half an hour) to prevent curdling or separation.

What to cook in a slow cooker:

There are entire websites and cook books dedicated to crock pot cooking of everything from appetizers to desserts and from soup to nuts. There is even a blog written by a woman who cooked something in her crock pot every single day for a year. While there are lots of recipes out there, the best ones are those which would also take the longest in your oven or on the stove; soups and stews, and tougher cuts of meats with lots of connective tissue like a chuck roast or pork butt/shoulder. Besides main course meals, crock pots are a great way to cook and keep side dishes warm on a buffet or for a large party. Try keeping your mashed potatoes or stuffing warm in the slow cooker at your next holiday meal.

Safety issues:

  • Make sure you properly and safely thaw meat or poultry before placing it in a slow cooker.
  • Do not add frozen meat to the slow cooker as it will take too long to thaw and might be kept at an unsafe temperature for too long.
  • Keep all ingredients refrigerated before placing them in the crock.
  • When the food is finished cooking, if you are not ready to serve the meal, keep it on a “warm” setting.
  • The contents of the slow cooker will take a long time to cool in the crock so transfer leftovers to smaller containers before refrigerating.

If you’re looking for more recipes for the slow cooker, check out my pork tacos, braised short ribs and pot roast recipes.

Let me know what some of your favorite things are to make in the slow cooker Do you have a favorite brand or feature? I think it’s time for me to “upgrade” my crock pot! 

Slow Cooked Chicken with Cannellini Beans, Fennel and Tomato

This is a warm and hearty one pot meal in a bowl. The cannellini beans and potatoes add plenty of substance to the meal, but if you want and additional side, it's excellent served over creamy polenta.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time6 hours
Total Time6 hours 10 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: beans, chicken, slow cooked
Servings: 8 servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 each yellow onion diced (about 8 oz)
  • 1 head fennel sliced into 2” slivers (about 6 oz)
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 can tomato paste 6 oz
  • 3 cups peeled and seeded tomatoes diced (or a 25 oz can)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 6 oz of baby carrots cut in half
  • 10 oz baby red potatoes about 4, cut in quarters
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 15 oz
  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 lb boneless chicken breasts cut in half, same size as thighs
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil for garnish optional


  • Heat a large sauté pan and add the olive oil. Over medium heat, saute the onions for 2-3 minutes until they begin to color slightly. Add the fennel and garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute, then add the diced tomatoes and dried herbs and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat.
  • Place the cut raw carrots and potatoes into the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • Lay the chicken thighs and then the breasts on top of the vegetables.
  • Next, add the beans and top with the tomato vegetable mixture from the saute pan.
  • Use a long wooden spoon to move the ingredients a bit to make sure some of the liquid reaches the bottom of the pot. Place the lid on and turn the heat onto low.
  • Cook for 6-7 hours on low. After 6 hours check the carrots and potatoes which should be fork-tender. If they aren't ready, allow it to cook a little longer. Take care not to stir the pot too much or the beans will get smashed and the chicken pieces will fall apart.
  • Before serving, taste and season with salt and pepper. A garnish of fresh herbs such as basil adds a bright and fresh flavor.


Note:  Some of the links above may contain Amazon affiliate links.  These are used to provide an example of the product discussed and if you happen to purchase something, Former Chef receives a very small commission which helps support this site. None of the products were given to me, nor am I endorsing any of them unless specifically stated. 


  • teresa

    Sounds tasty…and easy. You DO skin the thighs and breasts, yes? any idea how many Weight Watchers points per serving? On the low side, i’m thinking.

    • formerchef

      Teresa- I do use skinless chicken, yes. I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about Weight Watchers points, but if you can figure it out, feel free to come back here and share because I’m sure others would be interested!

  • teresa

    So, I loaded all the ingredients into a nutrition database, and it comes out to 11 Weight Watchers Points Plus values. Lots of people on WW these days, so maybe that will be useful. All in all, a dang healthy meal. Per serving; 490 Cal; 11 gr fat; Carbs 50; Fiber 17.6, and protein 48.5. I am making this one! maybe add some crushed red pepper flakes and bit of cumin. Thanks so much for sharing! (how are the kittys doing? my 5 are all good). 🙂

  • Denise

    Have been on the fence about getting a crock pot or slow cooker. I usually slow cook in a dutch oven on the stove top or in the oven. I do love meats cooked long and slow creating fork tender bites. This recipe is perfect especially with the addition of fennel – love this combo!

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