Saturday, February 26, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Chicken, Chicken Stock and Yogurt

As you'll notice in the photos, I'm not actually cooking the chicken in a crockpot. I used to do this in a crockpot, but it's been a long time since one chicken would feed us all, so I have to do two. I have two crockpots, but what's the point in using both of them when one large roaster oven will do the trick? This is something similar to roasted chicken, but since it's not cooked in the oven the bird won't brown nicely, and be all pretty for your table. It will however, be very tasy and juicy - which to me is preferable to pretty anyway. Who wants pretty, but dry chicken?

So, onto the first step:

(Almost) Roasted Chicken

Chicken         Celery
Carrots          Onion
Seasoned Meat Tenderizer
Cooking Spray (this is probably optional if you're using the slow cooker)
You could roast potatoes along with this, and I have before, but you're going to be making stock later from what's left in the pan, and potato remnants can make the stock cloudy. I don't really care about that (I just didn't want potatoes last night), but if you want truly clear stock you'd better skip the potatoes.
This is another incredibly easy meal.
I very lightly sprayed the roaster oven, then laid celery, carrots, and half of a large onion in the bottom to form a sort of rack for the chickens to sit on. I cut the remaining half of the onion in half again.
I sprinkled the inside and the breast side of each bird with the seasoned meat tenderizer, put one of the 1/4th sections of onion in the cavity of each bird and placed them, breast side down in the roaster. I drizzled the skin with a mix of olive oil and melted butter. This will help the skin brown a bit. At least it does in the roaster oven, I can't remember if this will brown it in the crockpot - it's worth a try if you like the skin. Then I sprinkled a little more tenderizer and fresh cracked pepper on the backs, put the lid on and turned it on. Fresh birds will not need to cook all day in a roaster, so for us this is good to start after lunch and cook on low (250-300degrees). You can get away with all day cooking on low in a crockpot. You can even start with a bird that's frozen if you're worried about it drying out. Since I'm not worried about looks, I cook my chickens upside down because it keeps the breast meat from drying out. This works well with turkeys too. I would never place looks before taste anyway, but since we've so many at our Thanksgiving dinner, we serve buffet style with the bird already carved up on a platter. It doesn't matter what it looked like to begin with.

That's it. That's all you do. You can eat the veggies if you want, but not being a big fan of cooked carrots, and not liking celery at all (it's really just in there for the stock), I just leave them in the pan after I take the chickens out to put on the table.

Now for the stock.

Chicken Stock

Remains of one roasted chicken, two in this case (pick the leftover meat off)
Any leftover roasted veggies
Fresh celery, carrots, and onions
Parsley (dried or fresh)
Using the same pot, with the roasted veggies still inside, I throw in a few more scrubbed and chopped carrots (I don't peel them for this) and celery stalks, another large onion (some say you can even leave the skin on the onion, but I've never done this) and the remains of the chicken. I serve the chicken still on the bones and have a bowl on the table for everyone to put them in when they're done. If it really skeeves you out to think about cooking with bones someone's eaten off of you can try to cut all the meat off the bones when you're serving, but bacteria or viruses won't withstand the cooking process you're about to put this stock through.
Add a spash or two of vinegar (this will pull the calcium out of the bones and into your stock, making it readily available to your system in the process), and fill the pot with water; then turn on low and cook. No, you will not taste the vinegar in the stock. Since the temp. on this roaster oven will go quite low, I make sure it's at least set high enough to keep the liquid at a steady simmer. For this size pot that's just shy of 300 degrees. Boiling it hard will result in a cloudy stock. A slow and steady simmer will give you a clear stock.
This is what mine looked like this morning. If you want yours to look like the store bought stuff you could stop right now, but I like mine richer, so I will cook it at least another day. Oftentimes mine is as dark at store bought beef broth, and sometimes darker, but everyone loves soup made with my stock.
I will probably cook this until Monday morning. Thirty minutes before I cut it off I will throw in some fresh parsley (you could use dry) and some peppercorns. Then I'll turn it off and let it cool a little before I carefully scoop out the solids. After that I'll strain it through several layers of cheesecloth, put it in the fridge to cool completely (you can pull the fat off the top after it's cooled), and then pour it in containers, leaving an inch of headspace to allow for expansion, and put it in the feezer.
Homemade stock is so good, and so much better for you than the store bought stuff. This might sound like a lot of work but it's not - just a lot of cooking (which you can, for the most part, ignore).


Milk - 1/2 gallon
Store bought yogurt (or some from a previous batch). Cream on top or low fat, but not fat free. 

You need at least a 4qt crockpot for this. I don't know if a smaller crockpot would hold enough heat for this to work.
Pour a half gallon (8 cups) milk in the pot and turn it on low. Cook for 2 &1/2 hours in a 4qt. pot, or 2hrs, 45min in a larger pot. When the time is up, turn the pot off and let it sit, undisturbed for 3hrs.
After the three hours are up, you'll add in the yogurt.
Since we use raw milk the cream forms a skin on top that I have to remove before I can add the yogurt. It doesn't affect the taste, but the skin part has an unpleasant texture once the yogurt has formed.
To add the yogurt, put some (I don't really measure it, but I think the original recipe said 1/2c) in a bowl and stir in some of the warm milk. It looked like a little more than half a gallon of milk (I'm sure Kay just eyeballed it when she poured it in the pot) so I added another scoop of yogurt to the bowl before adding the milk.
Mix well (do not use metal bowls or spoons), pour it back into the pot, stir it in well and put the lid back on.
Cover the pot with a folded blanket or towel and leave it sitting for about 8 hours. I usually start my yogurt in the afternoon so that it's ready to cover and let sit when it's time for bed. 
The milk will have cultured overnight. First thing in the morning, transfer it to a glass or plastic container and put it in the fridge. It will be ready to eat once it's chilled. The little bit of yellow on mine is what was left of the cream - there is always a bit that is still liquid under the part that skinned.
Homemade yogurt won't be as thick as store bought unless you add some plain gelatin to the warm milk before you add the yogurt/milk mixture. This isn't an issue for me as I love to eat it, slightly sweetened, with a touch of vanilla, poured on top of fresh fruit, or in smoothies. A box of plain gelatin would probably tell you how much it would take to gel that amount of liquid. Just remember, you're not eating gelatin; you wouldn't want it that firm.

This is a good way to make a lot of yogurt cheaply. Even if you use the store bought kind every time instead of saving some of what you previously cultured, it is still cheaper to make it than to buy it. I've never really added it all up, but I know I can make a half gallon of yogurt for under $4.00 (the raw milk we get is $6/gal), and it would cost at least double that if I were to buy a half gallon of yogurt at the store. I can bring the cost down to right at $3 if I use part of my previous batch for the culture.
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  1. We make that yogurt when we have an extra supply of milk. It is great! I love adding fruit and home-made granola! Always with a tablespoon or two of honey!
    When we use yogurt from a previous batch I notice that the next batch is slightly thicker. Didn't get a chance to keep trying that because we kept forgetting to save some! :) We have never added gelatin.
    When no one was looking I would add it into recipes, from cookies and muffins to chicken taco casserole. It is a lot of fun surprising them! :) (They get scarred when I'm in the kitchen too long by myself. Heehee)

  2. We have the same problem Amber, we keep forgetting to save some. I've put it in a few things, and we have made something like sour cream with it by mixing equal parts yogurt and buttermilk and letting it drain through a plastic colander, lined with a flour sack towel. I catch the whey in a bowl for use in soaking grains.

  3. By all means Ri, make some chicken soup! Your homemade chicken soup is delicious.