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When money is tight or you’re just in the mood to cook something you can then turn into a few different meals for the upcoming week, look no further than a whole chicken and your crockpot.
Chicken is such a versatile meat. Once it’s cooked, it’s easy to add it to sauces, casseroles, salads… you name it. And it all starts with nothing more than a whole chicken from the grocery store.
The Whole Chicken and the Slow Cooker
Get out your slow cooker and look around for some veggie scraps, onions, carrots, or the like. It doesn’t take much. You can even use some frozen onions and peppers from a mixed blend bag. All you want is to line the bottom of your slow cooker with a few sliced vegetables so your chicken doesn’t stick. Of course, the vegetables will also add flavor.
A sliced onion will do, but this is also a great time to use up that celery that’s starting to go limp or that open bag of baby carrots that doesn’t look fresh anymore. Slice your onion, break your celery into chunks, and toss in your baby carrots. If you’re in the mood for it, add a garlic clove or two to the mix for extra flavor.
Take your chicken out of the bag. Check for the little baggie that is stuffed inside the while chicken containing the neck, liver, gizzards, etc. Toss those in your crockpot and rinse your chicken. Pat it dry and lay it breast side up on top of the veggies. Season with salt and pepper.
Close the lid and cook your chicken on high for about 6 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours. You know it is done when the legs start to pull away from the body.
The chicken will be tender and falling from the bone. You’ll also notice some cooking liquid in the pot. Pull the meat off as best you can, focusing on the large chunks of breast and leg meat. Set this meat aside, but leave everything else in the slow cooker.
Making Chicken Broth
What makes this a frugal chicken is that we’re going to make use of every little bit, including the bones, skin, and bits of meat that are left in the slow cooker along with the veggies. It’s time to turn this into a delicious, wholesome chicken broth. You can sip the broth as a hot drink when it’s done or use it as the base for soups, stews, beans, and the like. This is good stuff and has a lot more flavor and nutritional value than the stock you buy at the grocery store.
When you’re done pulling the meat off the chicken, add plenty of water to the slow cooker along with a splash of apple cider vinegar if you have it. The vinegar is optional and is there to help leach as many minerals as possible from the bones. Skipping it won’t affect the flavor of your broth.
Turn the slow cooker on high until your mixture comes to a boil, then simmer the broth on low for a few hours. The longer you cook it, the more intense the flavor will get. I usually cook it overnight.
Get out a large bowl, pot, or heat-safe pitcher and a strainer. Ladle the finished broth through the strainer. Discard the bones and veggie scraps.
Allow the broth to cool until it is safe to handle, then pour it into containers. Glass jars work well, as do plastic freezer containers. If you plan on freezing your broth, leave some room in the containers when you fill them. You can even pour some of the broth into ice cube trays, freeze them, and then use the little cubes of frozen broth when you’re cooking veggies for added flavor and nutrition.
Low-Fat or No?
As the broth cools, you’ll notice that it will thicken up and that there is a layer of fat on the top. That’s what good homemade broth is supposed to look like. It has plenty of healthy fat and the main part of the broth has thickened up with the collagen you’ve cooked out of the cartilage of the chicken bones.
If you want low-fat chicken broth, set the container in the fridge for a few hours. The fat rises to the top and solidifies. You can grab the whole solid chunk and remove it from the broth. Otherwise, stir it back in as you are heating the broth for cooking.
Serve a chunk of the freshly cooked chicken with rice and a salad or some steamed veggies the first night. After that, it’s time to get creative. By day two you also have some delicious chicken stock to work with.
Meal Options with Your Slow-Cooked Chicken
Make a batch of chicken and rice soup with some of the shredded chicken, a cup of rice, the broth, and whatever vegetables you want to add.
Add the shredded chicken to sandwiches (chicken salad anyone?), serve it in tacos or burritos, add it to your favorite chicken casserole recipe, or make some creamed chicken. The broth makes a great base for any type of soup or stew. You can even cook your dried beans in it for another frugal and nutritious dish.
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