I've owned a slow cooker since I got married, and I've used it to cook a lot of different things. For years I mostly used it to make sauerkraut with hot dogs, always for the new year. Then I decided to venture out into some other recipes, most things have been hits, I can only think of one true miss. A couple of years ago I came across something that I wish I'd discovered ages ago.
I mentioned in my post about Aldi's that they sell very good fresh chickens. They aren't really big, usually somewhere between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 pounds. These fit very well into my medium sized slow cooker which is a 5 quart oval shaped one. And talk about super easy! Plus with just two of us, we can get 3 - 4 different meals from just that one chicken. Doesn't get any better than that!
It's really very easy to do, I'm going to explain it here. You can also do this with a frozen chicken, just make sure it's thawed completely first. I start out by putting some cut up onions and celery in the bottom of the crock pot, usually a small onion cut into fairly large pieces and a stalk or two of celery is all you need. If you have some carrots around, cut one of those into a couple of pieces and add it. Remove the chicken from the package, make sure you check to see if there is anything stuffed inside. Once in a while you may find a little package containing the giblets. I usually just toss that out, not a fan. Place the chicken in the crock pot on top of the vegetables, then season liberally with seasoned salt and Mrs. Dash in your favorite flavor. (If Mrs. Dash isn't available where you are, use pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary and a bit of garlic salt, or any combination of some of your favorite spices)
Now is the trickest part--how long to cook?! If you have one of the newer slow cookers, you will probably only need to cook it about 6 hours on the low setting. If yours is older, 8 - 10 hours on low. Why the difference? Because "someone" (I suspect in the legal department) decided that slow cookers cooked at too low of a temperature to be safe. So they jacked up the temperatures on them. This annoys me to no end because A)when have you ever heard of someone getting sick from something cooked in a slow cooker B)it screws up a lot of recipes that people have been using for years, and lastly C)it defeats the idea for the working person to throw their meal in their crockpot, go to work and come home to a yummy meal. If you tried that with some of the recipes I have now, you'd come home to burnt offerings or worse yet, your house burnt to the ground. As William Shakespeare said "kill all the lawyers!" In this case, I couldn't agree more.
Okay, so your chicken is done and you're scratching your head--now what? Here's what I do with mine. I get a large baking pan/dish out, and carefully lift the chicken out with some tongs. Don't be surprised if it falls apart a bit, cooking in the slow cooker does cook it thoroughly. I then cut some of the meat away and we eat that the first night with some sides--potatoes, a veggie, onion rings, whatever. What to do with the rest? First thing I do is drain the juices through a strainer into a storage container and stick it in the refrigerator, tossing the veggies. After it has been in the refrigerator for a while, the grease will separate and rise to the top, as well as harden. You can then pop that off and into the trash, leaving you some wonderful, low fat chicken broth! The rest of the chicken I pull apart into small pieces and with that I can make several different things:
Chicken gravy with chicken chunks over biscuits (using the wonderful broth I just described!)
Chicken Soup (also using the broth)
Chicken chunks on a tossed salad
Those are our personal favorites. I love the fact that these chickens cost about $5 and I can get such a variety of meals this way. Other than the bones and the skin, there is very little waste. And it's sooooooooo yummy! A little tip I will give you is to refrigerate the cooked chicken overnight before pulling it apart, it comes apart much easier that way. The nice part about this too is that the broth as well as the chicken you have pulled apart can all be frozen if you don't want to use it right away. I almost always have a container of chicken broth in my freezer for something further down the line.
Slow cookers are a wonderful tool that I think every cook should have and learn to use. It's a great appliance for making a home cooked meal on those days when you don't want to be in the kitchen for an extended period of time. I use mine quite a bit during the summer months, it's a nice way to cook a dinner without adding heat to the kitchen. Plus I can be off doing other things, most recipes don't require much attention once you have the ingredients together.
Do you have a slow cooker? And what is one of your favorite things to make in it if you do? I already shared my spaghetti sauce recipe and I'll be sharing more of my crock pot favorites in the months to come.