Poultry with Panache

Read some excellent tips for cooking poultry to perfection in a slow cooker.
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Poultry with Panache

Ellen on Edibles

White meat or dark? In my book, there's nothing like the texture of succulent dark meat that's been through the slow cooker. Skinless thighs are my favorite cut, and they can be used in place of mixed pieces in any of these recipes. Although dark meat is slightly higher in calories than white meat, the amount is very small, assuming the skin has been removed.

Chicken is one of the most versatile and popular meats to cook, and in the slow cooker, it's almost impossible for the meat to become dry—yet another advantage of slow cooking!

Chicken and all meats should always be rinsed under cold running water after being taken out of the package. If it's going to be pre-browned in the oven or in a skillet on the stove, pat the pieces dry with paper towels and then wash your hands. Chicken often contains salmonella, a naturally occurring bacteria that is killed by cooking, but you don't want to transfer this bacteria to other foods.

It's a good rule for food safety that all boards and knives that have held raw meats should always be scrubbed well before cooked foods are placed on them. And make sure to wash your hands well, too!

For the sake of food safety, it's best not to cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker except if cooking on High, because the low heat might keep the meat of a whole bird in the bacterial danger zone for more than two hours. But as with beef, you save money and get trimmings for stock if you cut it up yourself.

If you do choose to cut the bird yourself, here's how to do it:

  • Start by breaking back the wings until the joints snap, then use a boning knife to cut through the ball joints to detach the wings.
  • Cut off the wing tips and save them for stock.
  • When holding the chicken on its side, you will see a natural curve outlining the boundary between the breast and leg quarters. Cut along this line using sharp kitchen shears. Don't be afraid to feel for the joints with your fingers first. Your cutting will be more accurate if you know exactly where to make the first slice.
  • Cut the breast in half by cutting down the meat on both sides of the breast bone. Chicken will fit into most slow cookers better if you cut the breast into two or three pieces.
  • Last, divide the thigh and leg parts by cutting through the joint that joins them. Again, don't be afraid to feel for the joints with your fingers first.

For chicken dishes cooked with the skin on, it's more visually appealing if the chicken is browned before it's placed in the slow cooker. The easy way to do this is to broil it under a preheated oven broiler for 3 to 4 minutes, turning the legs and wings so they brown on both sides.