My roommates and I had an arrangement in college…I cooked, they cleaned. Though for most students college is when cooking ramen noodles is the height of culinary arts, I have always loved to cook even in the days of zero extra cash. So, I used the budget we had, bought groceries and made dinners.
I don’t remember many of the meals, but I do remember the crockpot barbecue chicken. It was the “we’re having people over for dinner but are being good girls and not skipping classes” meal. I would throw a bunch of chicken breasts in the crockpot cover them with a bottle or two of the cheapest barbecue sauce and let them cook for the whole day.
Fast forward a few (or several) years and I can’t get past the large quantity of high fructose corn syrup that is in most bottled sauces and the exorbitant prices of gourmet versions. So when I feel the urge to make something that is comforting to me and reminds me of my Texas roots, I just make the sauce myself.
If you talk to BBQ people or watch the occasional barbecue cook-off, you will be subtly persuaded that it is actually rocket science. I will admit that the whole smoking thing is not my bag because there is a bit of science involved, and admittedly view it with some sort of culinary reverence. But as for the sauce, there’s not much to it, which is probably why everyone else guards their sauce recipes so closely. I was just chit-chatting with a BBQ guy one day and innocently wondering out loud whether he used a whole chile or dried version and he actually told me “Don’t ask me any more questions.”
Since my whole mission in life is to pass along what I know, I can’t keep mine a secret. I’will only share, though to you if you promise me one thing…don’t stick to the recipe! Think about your family and add what you like. Though water is fine for the needed liquid to dilute the tomato paste, I am always looking for ways to bump up flavors, so I use prepared espresso for part of the liquid. Coffee would work fine, too. When I use espresso, I tend to use balsamic vinegar for my acid since it’s natural sweetness balances the slight bitterness of espresso. Apple Cider would be the more traditional acid if you’re just doing water.
I have included my “secret” recipe. All you need to do is prepare it (up to 3 days in advance) and then pour it over chicken breasts before slow-cooking for 4-6 hours. We served the chicken with baked potatoes and a salad.
CWYG “List” items– chicken breasts, tomato paste, espresso, brown sugar, vinegar, ancho chile powder, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic, onion, potatoes, yogurt (we use this instead of sour cream), cheese
Veggie Box – lettuce for salad
Homemade Barbecue Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp smoked paprika
4 tsp ancho chile powder
2 tsp cumin
2 6 oz cans tomato paste
2 cups water (I used a shot of espresso and made up the remaining liquid with water)
½ cup brown sugar (or to taste)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used this with espresso but apple cider with water would be fine)
Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil. When they are just starting to turn barely golden, add spices and sauté for another minute to lightly toast the spices. Add the tomato paste and sauté until it begins to turn a darker shade of red. Add the water (espresso/water blend), the brown sugar and vinegar. Let cook until slightly thickened. Pour over chicken breasts and cook until they are falling apart pretty easily.