If ever there was a busy mom’s meal, this is it! I am forever indebted to my friend Talitha for turning me on to the fact that whole chickens can be cooked in a crock pot rather than the oven because it makes at least one meal each week a cinch.
My kids love chicken, but baking it without a slew of sauce leaves it dry and tasteless–especially when using the boneless, skinless breasts most commonly sold in supermarkets. A whole chicken baked in a slow cooker, on the other hand, turns out tender, moist, and full of flavor. It also makes purchasing organic chicken affordable since whole chickens are much cheaper per pound than individual cuts.
Slow-cooker chicken can be as simple as placing a whole chicken in your crock pot in the morning, setting it on low for 6 hours, then enjoying it for dinner. But the real beauty in this method is the fact that it can become a whole meal–not just the meat–by simply adding your favorite flavorings and veggies to the pot along with the chicken.
Here’s what I do:
- Place a 3.5-4.5 pound bird in my 6-quart crock pot;
- Pour 1-2 tablespoons of cooking sherry over the chicken;
- Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and some chopped garlic and/or onions;
- Stuff my favorite veggies down alongside the chicken in the bottom of the pot;
- Place the lid on top and turn the pot on low for 6 hours to perform its magic!
I’ve used chopped carrots (baby carrots would also work well), beets, beet greens, rutabagas, kale, chard, sweet potatoes, and half a dozen other veggies in various combinations to create my meals. If you’re a working mom with little time to spare in the morning, you could cube a few veggies the night before so they’re ready to dump in your slow cooker in the morning. This will be a quick process because the cubes can be large, up to several inches wide, since they will have all day to cook. Greens are best tucked way down towards the bottom of the pot so that they simmer in the chicken’s juices; if they’re placed in the crock last and set on top of the bird, they will end up crispy and dried out.
Another great thing about this meal is that it is very forgiving. A chicken is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, but I’ve let my birds reach up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit when I’ve lost track of time (my cooker doesn’t have a timer) and they’ve still turned out tender and juicy. The chicken can also be cooked on high for 4 hours if you forget to prepare it in the morning as I often do.
Now here’s for the bonus broth:
Once you’ve cooked and consumed your chicken, you can place the bones and any remaining skin, meat, and fat back into your crock pot along with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, any veggie scraps you have lying around (beet tails, celery leaves, etc.), plus about a teaspoon each of salt, pepper, and any other spices you like (I often add coriander). Fill the pot up with water to about an inch from your lid and turn it back on low for 8-24 hours to make your own chicken broth. When you can dedicate about 15 minutes, turn off the pot, pour the liquid/bones/veggies/etcetera through a colander to separate out the broth, then pour it into glass jars for future use (a canning funnel is extremely helpful during this step).
Whenever a recipe calls for a cup or two of chicken broth, pull it out of the fridge (it will last about a week here) or freezer (it will last up to a year here) rather than using the nasty, preservative- and sodium-laden stuff they sell at the supermarket. I also use mine in place of plain water whenever I boil rice, lentils, or beans; the grains and legumes will absorb the nutrients from the broth as they simmer, enriching your meals with extra vitamins and minerals. When someone is sick, heat up some broth for a soothing, nutrient-filled drink or simmer some chicken and noodles in it for homemade chicken-noodle soup.
A note about storage: I’ve tried to store my bone broth in mason jars but the glass has sometimes cracked while thawing after I pull it out of the freezer. I’ve found that using the glass jars from other items I’ve used up such as coconut oil, peanut butter, jelly, etcetera, works better (for some reason, these jars don’t crack). It also helps to first place the broth-filled jars in the fridge for several hours before freezing so that the initial temperature change is more gradual.
So there you have it! A super easy chicken dinner that will feed the whole family with just a few minutes of prep, plus leave you with yummy homemade broth for recipes down the road. The only downside I’ve yet discovered with slow-cooker chicken is that the skin doesn’t get crispy, but with so many “upsides,” I’ve been more than willing to learn to love moist chicken skin as much as the crispy kind. Okay, maybe not as much as the crispy kind–but it no longer bothers me at all, and if it bothers you, simply pull it off and save it for your broth 🙂