Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Planning Ahead Is A Crock(pot): It's Okay If You're Chicken

I have received actual suggestions from actual readers! THAT, alone, is awesome news for me. I love feedback--crave it, in fact. I don't know if you realize this or not, but until you check a box or leave a comment, I have no idea if you like this stuff or not, no idea if I should keep harassing my husband for his opinion all the time on which title sounds wittier or which recipe to test next. No. Idea.

Sorry, I'll come back to the camp. Where I was originally going with all this is that some of you would like to know how to cook some of the basics and some of you would like to know how to do that when it's just you and (maybe) one other person. Cooking for one or two people can be, well, seemingly pointless unless you can get more out of it (or possibly a photo spread in bon appetite for being so utterly chic and green--I keep hoping but I think the spit up on my stretched out T has silently eliminated me from the cool kid table). So, more to the point, how can you cook something decent and make it worth your while-like, get a couple of meals out of it so you don't have to spend those spare moments of your commute wondering if you can get dinner on before he/she gets home.

Let's start with some basics then. Like chicken in a crockpot. Nothing fancy, sure, but pretty much idiot-proof (please please please don't send me emails full of hate if something goes wrong here and you think I mean you are worse than an idiot--I'm sorry. I AM.) But, really, it's a chicken. And you put it into a pot. And you turn the pot on. And you walk away.  So don't be afraid. Let's just walk through some of the steps.
First of all, why the crockpot and not roasting it in the oven? Well, there are benefits to both. I roast a chicken when I need it done fast, want it to have crispy skin, want to make gravy from the drippings and/or plan to feed a lot of people at once with it. 
I choose the crockpot when I want to walk away from the kitchen for a while (hey, it happens), need a lot of stock for more than just gravy, need the chicken to be super-moist so I can use it in more than one meal, and/or want to cook down some veggies with the chicken.
So, today, I needed a lot of stock so I can show you an awesome summer squash risotto later. And why open a bunch of cans of broth or use up bullion cubes, when I've got me a chicken in the pot? 

First, I add about 4 cups of water and 4 bullion cubes to the pot and turn it on to medium. I need basic broth so I'll also add a couple of dried bay leaves to the water. 
Next, the chicken. While you can add a frozen chicken to a crockpot, I simply don't recommend it. It should be at least thawed enough that you can bend the wings and open up the cavity to be sure you don't have a bag of gizzards inside. If you do have some organ meat, add it to the pot for flavor. You may decide you never ever want to know what a chicken heart tastes like but it's flavorful and shouldn't be wasted.
 I like to rinse my bird really well inside and out, removing any excessive fat along the neck. Be sure to clean down your sink afterwards with a good disinfectant. Better safe than puking.
Next, bend the wings back and tuck them under the bird. The legs will be on the top side, the wings will be on the bottom--it kind of looks like the bird has his arms behind his, um, well, head (don't think about it, this bird is in a better place now). Now put clucky in the pot.
Seasonings. This is a basic chicken. If you decide to make chicken stir fry with the bits, you don't want it to taste like lemon pepper first, okay. So you want some basic spices and herbs here to bring out the natural flavors of the chicken--salt, pepper, sage or poultry seasoning, garlic, onion, maybe a bit of paprika. Along with the bay leaves already in the water, you have the standard poultry flavor working here and the resulting broth will be universally useful.
Unless it's 2 hours until time to serve, just leave the pot at low and keep it covered. You really don't have to baste it or anything since the moisture is sealed in the pot. Now walk away.
To know your fowl wont leave you feeling foul (look, it was only a matter of time before I included that pun) ALWAYS use a thermometer to check your meat-whether it has been in the oven, crockpot, or skillet. It's just smart. Always test the center or thickest part of the meat, in this case, between the leg and body. Proper temp is 165. (by the way, if you are re-heating any meat, it should reach a temperature of 170 in order to kill any bacteria that may have sprouted since last use).

Pull the bird out and place on a serving dish; cover with foil for at least 15 minutes so it can rest. Otherwise, should you just cut right in, all the juices you just worked so hard to ensure will drain right out chicken little and you will have something the equivalent of wet cardboard. mmm mmm mmm. 

AND DON'T FORGET TO SAVE THE STOCK. Regardless of if you are using it now or now, strain it through a sieve or chinois  into a bowl that is sitting in the sink. This will eliminate any mess from slashes. If you aren't using it right away, cover and cool it OR cover, cool, then freeze it for later. 

Tomorrow, we'll talk about what to do with leftovers. 


Katie said...

This was AWESOME!! I can't wait to see what else can be done with the chicken and stock! If freezing, should I pack the chicken with a little of the stock to keep it moist or just freeze the chicken by itself/dry?

betty crocker said...

If you are freezing the chicken, put a little stock with it. I usually pull the meat off the bone too.