The February holidays (Superbowl, Winter Olympics, Lincoln’s Birthday, Valentine’s Day) combined with the Midwest winter weather (especially this year!) have motivated me to use the crock pot a lot. I put the meal in the morning before going to the restaurant, and it’s ready when I get home. My family loves oven-roasted chicken with its crisp and golden skin, but it usually winds up on our weekend menu because of the time required to roast. I know a crockpot won’t produce crisp skin, but I have been reading so much about tender, juicy whole chicken in the crockpot that I thought I would see what all the hype was about. Spoiler alert: Chicken in the crockpot is fabulous. What is lacking—crisp skin—is more than compensated for in the tender, juicy delicate meat, especially the breast meat that can often come out of the oven on the dry side. One of my favorite summer grill recipes is my Pesto Turkey Breast, so it was a natural question: why not pesto chicken? I also wanted to develop another pesto, beyond basil. So first I created a parsley pesto without pine nuts because sensitivity to tree nuts is one of the top 10 allergies. Further, parsley is abundant year round; basil is abundant only in summer. The parsley pesto has a fresh, lively but delicate flavor; however, you can use it any way you would use basil pesto: As a sauce for pasta, as an ingredient in salad dressing, as a sauce for grilled fish, poultry or meat, as an ingredient in compound butter, mayonnaise and cream cheese spreads, to mix with cooked rice (especially risotto), and of course, to stuff under the skin and into the cavity of slow-cooker chicken. A big five-pound chicken takes 4 to 5 hours on low to cook to a succulent, fork-tender entrée that serves eight. I served it with a saffron risotto. I can hear the protests: How can you use a slow cooker to save time and then recommend a labor-intensive side dish, however compatible, such as risotto? I can because I discovered one of many quick-cooking or fully-cooked rice products: an Italian risotto called Grande Risotto Elefante in 7-ounce packages, each of which makes about 4 side-dish servings, and which cooks in 15 minutes. There is also Trader Joe’s fully cooked brown rice; Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, and Lundberg Farms Creamy Parmesan Risotto, all fast to prepare, and can be dressed up with additional Parmesan and a stir-in of the Parsley Pesto. When using the slow cooker for a whole chicken, please forget using a rack; the tender bird will never come out in one piece. Instead use an aluminum foil sling (see recipe directions) to lower and lift the bird. I suggest you freeze the chicken giblets, remove the skin from the cooked chicken and refrigerate it, then save the bones. Use these all to make a rich chicken stock.
- 1 (5-pound) whole chicken
- 1 cup Parsley Pesto (recipe follows)
- Remove chicken giblets and freeze for later use. Slip one hand underneath the breast skin and loosen the skin from the breast and thighs and legs. Turn chicken over repeat, loosening skin from the back.
- Spread parsley pesto underneath the skin on the breast, thighs, legs and back. Spread remaining pesto inside chicken cavity.
- Spray insert in a 7-quart crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Make a sling three sheets thick of aluminum foil, (with holes pierced in the bottom) long enough to hold chicken and fold over on both sides making handles.
- Or fold four sheets of foil into strips. Tie three strips around chicken and thread the fourth strip through the top to make a handle.
- Place the chicken in its sling in the crockpot and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours, or until an instant read thermometer registers 160°F in the breast and 175°F in the thighs.
- Remove chicken from crockpot using the aluminum sling. Transfer to a serving platter. Remove and discard sling. Remove skin. Transfer any chicken juices to a container and refrigerate.
- Slice and serve with risotto, or brown rice enriched with Parsley Pesto.
Variations: Place skin in self-sealing plastic bag and refrigerate. After chicken is served, save and refrigerate bones. Use the frozen giblets, skin and bones, along with the defatted chicken juices and water as needed to make a rich chicken stock.
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