Saturday, December 1, 2012

Simple Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

My husband just started doing a low carb diet, which means I have a new cooking project! It's a fun challenge coming up with recipes that work for his diet, but I have to say, it violates some of my core cooking values: I try to keep recipes simple and inexpensive, which means I often include lots of beans and try to stretch small portions of meat. He can't have beans during the induction phase, but we should be able to work a moderate amount of them in later. For now, that means a lot more meat than I am used to cooking.

To keep things simple and inexpensive, I wanted to try the old school method of making chicken soup: poaching a whole chicken. I already routinely use my Crockpot to make stock with leftover poultry bones, so I wanted to try cooking the whole chicken in there, making stock at the same time.

I have already written about how many recipes have no business being in a Crockpot, and that I will only use mine for the few applications in which the recipe will actually benefit from slow cooking. You can rest assured that this one of those recipes ideal for a Crockpot; making chicken soup this way makes the broth richer and saves you active cooking time. The soup came out fantastic: the chicken was cooked well, the broth was rich and herby, and amazingly, the veggies still had some bite to them.

Keep this on hand in the freezer for when you get the inevitable seasonal cold/flu!

Simple Slow Cooker Chicken Soup
1 onion, chopped
2 heaping T minced garlic
4-5 lb whole chicken
1 lb carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb celery (most of a head), leaves included, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1 T salt
1 T plus 1 t seasoned salt (I like Season All)
1 1/2 T Italian seasoning (I love Italian seasoning, but it has never tasted very "Italian" to me. It tastes strongly of rosemary, with hints of sage, thyme, and marjoram; herbs that compliment chicken very well.)
lots of black pepper
1 cup uncooked brown rice, added 2 hours before end of cooking (optional; obviously don't use if doing low carb)

Garnish with:
1 bunch parsley, chopped
splash of lemon (freshens up the flavor and acts like a flavor enhancer. I swear it tastes more "chickeny" with a little lemon)

If you want to get super simple, you can chop the veggies in the food processor by pulsing in batches, or you can chop by hand.

Place onions and garlic on the bottom of a large (6 quart) slow cooker. Place the whole chicken, skin and bones and everything, in the slow cooker, breast side up. Dump everything else in except rice and garnish. Fill with water up to 1.5 inch from top.

Cook in slow cooker on low for 7 hours. If using rice, add after 4 hours. Once cooking is complete, remove chicken from slow cooker.

When I got to this step, I peeked into the slow cooker, and the chicken looked totally intact. I was excited about the drama of pulling out a whole chicken and carving it, and I was about to call my husband over to watch the perfect chicken emerge from the Crockpot. Luckily I didn't, because when I stuck the spoon inside the cavity to lift it out, the spoon went right through it, ripped the chicken in half, and made a disturbing "splat". Not a bad thing, really, it means that the meat is super tender and the bones have given up their gelatin to the stock. Just be aware that your chicken may break into a few large pieces when you go to remove it.

Use a couple of large serving spoons to get the chicken out. Let it cool on a plate for a few minutes. While it's cooling, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Alternatively, you could make the soup a day ahead and refrigerate it. The fat will solidify into a layer on top that you can just lift off.

At this point, you may wonder if you need to strain the broth. No! It will be fine! Keep it simple and rustic. The chicken stayed in large chunks, so it was easy to fish out, with no bones or weird bits left behind.

Pick the meat off your chicken, shred it, and return it to the soup. No need to cook it anymore; it's ready to garnish and serve! You may want to add more water if you want more broth in your soup.

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