I have never perfected the timeless art of roasting a chicken. I can handle a turkey (perhaps because everyone’s expectations of the bird are pretty low, let’s be honest). But roasted chicken has me stumped. I’ve tried numerous can’t-miss recipes (techniques really) and I still failed. Usually they come out undercooked, so I put them back in the oven and let it go a little longer, which turns out to be too long. Dry chicken. Boo!
I’ve roasted whole birds on a rack and on a bed of root vegetables and a rack over a bed of root vegetables. I’ve slid butter and herbs under the skin (ew!), roasted it breast side up and breast side down, and even flipped it part way through. Stuffed it. Left the cavity empty. You name it, I’ve tried it. To no avail.
With breast meat that tends to dry out and thigh meat that determines the proper cooking temperature, I feel like the deck is stacked against me. It’s like betting against the house in Vegas – I’m gonna lose, it’s just a matter of how badly.
But then I spotted a tip for cooking a whole chicken in a slow cooker. I was skeptical, but I tried it. It was okay, but too plain for me, and lacking the glory of a true roasted chicken. It tasted of compromise somehow. However, it was pretty evenly cooked which was an improvement to be sure. Still, it wasn’t very satisfying, especially considering the price of a whole organic bird.
Then a friend told me she uses the same technique, but douses the bird in sauce before cooking. And let me tell you folks, that’s a winner. It couldn’t be easier or more delicious. Even I can do it, and that says a lot given my propensity to ruin roasters. The meat is juicy, tender and flavorful. The only drawback is that you don’t get crispy skin. But since it’s the meat I’m after, that’s a price I’ll happily pay.
Here’s the rundown:
1. Get out your small to medium sized slow cooker. (I use this one, but note that you can save 5 bucks by opting for the red one.)
2. Unwrap your defrosted whole chicken (*see my note below on starting with a frozen bird) and remove any innards that accompany it. Save the neck and/or organs if you’d like for making broth. Hold the chicken over the sink, cavity side down, letting any liquid drain off. There’s no need to dry the bird more than that as this is a “wet” roasting technique.
3. Drop the bird into the slow cooker breast side up (so the tips of the wings are pointing up at you). No need to grease the pot.
4. Add any sauce that sounds good to you. [We have enjoyed several different BBQ sauces, teriyaki sauce, and salsa. Some people call for a whole bottle, my friend uses half, and I’ve made it work with just a quarter (cheapskate!). The chicken will produce lots of liquid while it cooks so there’s no need to add more fluids. If you want a DIY sauce, try balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, or Dijon mustard and honey…whatever sounds good to you. I’d say you need at least 1/3c to cover the top side of the bird, more or less depending on the size of your chicken. Last time I did this I used ¼ bottle of a thick BBQ sauce (thinned a bit with water to stretch it), onion flakes, and garlic salt.]
5. Cover, turn the slow cooker on high and cook for 4 hours, or on low for 8 hours. When it’s done, you need to let it rest a bit before cutting it open, as you would a traditional roasted chicken. Shut the slow cooker off, and spend 10-20 minutes getting the rest of dinner ready, folding some laundry or having a dance party.
6. Take the bird out of the slow cooker (I like to use long kitchen tongs like these, one side of which I shove inside the cavity to hoist the bird out by its skeleton). Move it to a cutting board with a lip to catch the juices* and carve (or in my case hack) as you desire.
Serve with rice or potatoes and some veggies. Dinner in a flash. This really is a fail-proof method, giving new meaning to the phrase “the house wins every time!”. Now those are odds I like!
*Starting with a frozen bird: In a pinch you can use a frozen bird. Don’t report me to the food safety police, but I know one or two people (okay, my friend and me) who have run the frozen bird under hot water just long enough to pry the bag of gizzards out, and then proceeded as usual. Frankly, I don’t think the end result is quite as good as using a thawed bird, but it’s a great alternative if you don’t have time to defrost. (Or a schedule that allows for a cook time of only 4 or 8 hours. Note that a programmable slow cooker could get around this problem.) If what you’ve got is a frozen bird, thaw just enough to yank those innards out, drop the chicken in the pot, slather with sauce, turn it to low and move on with you day. In 9-10 hours (or more) it will be ready. It’s good to have options, people!
What to do with leftovers
What can you do with all that leftover chicken that remains after dinner (assuming you didn’t eat it all in one go)? Funny you should ask. I’m working on another post about that right now. In the meantime, suffice it to say that you can use this chicken any way you can think of. If you have big pieces of meat left, slice it up and make sandwiches. If all you have are little bits and pieces, think chicken salad, fried rice, quesadillas, protein for your salad, chicken soup…
When there’s only a little meat left on the bones, make chicken stock. This post will show you how. Toss it in the freezer and you’ll have (virtually free) broth whenever you need it.
*If you don’t have a cutting board with a lip you can buy one or DIY one. Lay a flat cutting board down inside a cookie sheet with edges (a jelly roll pan, more precisely) and the juices may run, but not onto your counter.