Once in awhile, particularly on days when it drops below -30 (seriously – it was minus 47 yesterday morning with the wind chill factor. -47! Global warming, where are you?) I get the urge to pull out my slow cooker and experience the gratification of smelling dinner simmering all day long. It could be this urge was subconsciously triggered by the current barrage of ads for McCain’s Slow Cooker Solutions – those $10 frozen meals packaged in an ice cream tub instead of a bag, that you toss into your slow cooker instead of your microwave. (It doesn’t say much that their ultra-styled photo still looks like Puritan beef stew in a can. And look… they even bought the Health Check symbol to go on the front. Have you seen the recent exposé on CBC’s Marketplace?)
People. Slow cookers ARE the solution, they don’t require a solution. People don’t bring them home and think, what on earth am I going to do with this contraption? It takes a full four minutes to dump some meat, vegetables and liquid into it and press the “on” button! Thank goodness someone found a way to shave a precious minute or two off of that daunting process. I love it when companies come up with solutions to problems that didn’t even exist in the first place.
I’ve heard you can roast (and I use the term “roast” loosely… since it’s really an entirely different cooking method) a whole chicken in the slow cooker, but I haven’t tried it before. So I did. All you need to do is loosely crumple up three balls of tin foil a and put them in the bottom of the slow cooker, and set the chicken on top to keep it from sitting against the bottom. If you want to shove a few cloves of garlic or half a lemon inside the chicken, feel free to do so. No need to truss it. Just drizzle with a little oil or rub with soft butter (this ensures a crispy, golden crust – in the oven, anyway) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set it on low for 8 hours. I’ve seen recipes that call for 10.
Now in theory, if you want your skin more golden, crank it up to high for either the first hour or the last. Many cooking methods for roast beef and pork blast the meat with high heat at the beginning or end in order to create a crisper, deeper crust, which adds flavor and a more appealing texture. But as long as the chicken is cooked through; the juices run clear and joints wiggle freely in their sockets, there’s really no need if you’re not concerned with aesthetics. Besides, the chicken skin doesn’t really brown much in a slow cooker even if you do crank it up.
The bird was totally done after 6 hours, but I let it go awhile longer – because the lid traps any moisture that might escape from a traditional oven environment, it stayed perfectly moist and juicy. When I tried to lift it out with tongs, it fell apart as if it was delicately made out of cards. No need to carve this thing. For a crisp, crunchy skin I prefer the oven method, but this meat will be fantastic in sandwiches, salads, curries, quesadillas, fried rice… really anything chicken goes into when you’re not eating it off the bone. And because it literally strips itself for you as you try to get it onto the plate, you can slip away the skin and still be left with plump, flavorful meat.
To go with, a rice pilaffy-salad that I learned while food styling for Rose Reisman. It’s dead easy – since brown and wild rice require the same cooking time, you boil about half and half in a big pot of water (or stock, for more flavor), as if you were cooking pasta. Drain, cool, and add chopped dried fruit, a big bunch of parsley (a great way to get your greens – it’s not just for garnish anymore), toasted pecans (I was sad to find I didn’t have any, but always keep a jar of roasted almonds in the cupboard) and a delicious dressing made with orange juice, sesame oil and garlic.