Basic Slow Cooker Cooked Chicken
I have frequently happily referred to adding cooked chicken to something I was cooking, and I discussed it as something I try to keep on hand for the quick emergency meals from the freezer. Equally, I mention chicken stock as something I have on hand.
I realized, though, that while I have discussed making chicken soup, cooking a chicken in the slow cooker and making an herb sauce, and so on, I have never posted the Basic Cooked Chicken Foundation Recipe – just the variations. I mean, you could figure it out… but let me write it up in one place.
I usually use the slow cooker for this. Because I will be boning the chicken, and then making chicken stock, I often buy the Chicken Legs with Back – full quarters – that our grocery store sells. They are less expensive than the ones without the back, but you also are paying for the bone, and there is more work – it is not worth it unless you are going to make stock, and are willing to fiddle with little bones…
It is easier to use just legs, without back. Easier still to use just the thighs, as they have a single bone each that is simple to remove. Easiest, of course, is boneless thighs… and that will make the most sense for many a person trying to cook in hardly any time… You just then won’t bother making stock (though there will still be some broth from the chicken itself you can use for sauce.) Breasts work, of course, but I find breasts alone come out dry – I would suggest mixing them with legs. A whole chicken automatically comes with both, of course – and I often use that, instead. (I have also sometimes bought the legs with back, and then cut the backs off and reserved them for stock, later, and even separated the drumsticks and thighs for specific uses, such as baking or frying them, or making a recipe where the chicken is cooked right in the sauce.)
Anyhow – I fill the slow cooker with chicken. This time I just used two legs, for illustration purposes, but I usually do four or six – and a larger slow cooker will hold more. As long as I’m doing it… I put the meat right in, with at least one piece skin down, so the fat will start to cook out. It doesn’t need any liquid, as enough juices will cook out of the meat. Then I set the slow cooker to Low, and let it go.
Slow cookers do vary a bit in heat and cooking time, but, as a rule of thumb, if I want to lift out specific pieces of meat, and serve a thigh to one and a drumstick to someone else (having separated them before cooking, of course) I cook it about 7- 7 1/2 hours. In 8 hours, the meat is falling off the bone – wonderfully tender, but in shreds. The other evening, I simply lifted the pieces out to a platter, and pulled off chunks of meat to serve as dinner. I spooned a little of the broth in the pot over the grains, but did not make a sauce, though I could have.
After dinner, I returned to the kitchen, and the meat, which had now cooled enough to handle. I removed all the meat from the bones – that’s enough for a salad for the two of us, or to serve with something else for the next day’s dinner – and put it in the refrigerator.
I returned all the bones, skin, and other scrap to the pot, covered it with water, and added a little vinegar (which helps pull minerals from the bones) and salt. I also often have a bag of bones and scraps in the freezer – I’ll save them if we had chicken cooked in a different way – and I sometimes have vegetable scraps, too – peelings, stems, and so on (though not from broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables – they don’t take well to long simmering.) If so, I add them.
Then I simply turned the slow cooker back on and let it run overnight, and into the day, until I was ready to deal with it. I try for at least 12 hours – 24 doesn’t hurt it at all… the longer it cooks, the more of the goodness from the bones is in the broth. This is the Bone Broth that many people talk of, as if it were a new discovery, these days – it’s also the Chicken Stock good cooks have been making for centuries. Much nutrition, and even more flavor.
I find the easiest way to drain it is to remove the larger bones first, and let them drain, then discard them. Then I pour the rest through a fine strainer. (If I worried about clear soup, I could use a much finer strainer, or even a cheesecloth or coffee filter. I’m not that fussy…) Then I can go ahead and make soup, or I can refrigerate or freeze the stock for later. This is in the fridge, as we’re getting cool days and are starting to want soup. I also freeze stock in ice cube trays, and make sure I always have a bag full of the cubes. I use them constantly in cooking – if some vegetables need a little moisture, if I want quick sauce… 4-5 Stock Cubes, 1 Roux Cube, and perhaps some seasoning – I have a quick chicken gravy.
So there you are. Basic Chicken and Broth. Toss the chicken in a salad, in a vegetable saute to make a meal, add it with vegetables back to the broth to make soup, use it in a casserole, mix it with sauce… With a container of cooked chicken in the fridge, you can put a meal on the table in short order.