Ask Chef Phyllis:
I’m not in the habit of using just chicken breasts or parts and need to find a good recipe for whole chicken. I know how to cut it up, if need be. I’ve heard of a chicken in milk recipe from a neighbor and had something like it in Spain, but the meat was pork. Does any of this sound familiar? I looked for it on the internet and don’t know which one to cook. I want a dish that’s delicious, really unique, and easy. Can you help?
—Teresa Juanita Hall, Brooklyn, MD
As many of you know, I authored a book for the slow cooker. The Slow Cook Gourmet debuted in 2016, and I admit that it’s really meant for someone who knows their way around the kitchen and understands complex, even sophisticated, recipes and techniques. So I began making easier, everyday recipes for the busy family, using a slow cooker as a second pair of hands and big time saver. Teresa, your letter inspired this post.
In a perfect world, more people would choose to buy a whole chicken and use the slow cooker to save themselves some time and a lot of effort. A whole bird is economical, no matter its size, and you can use every morsel of it.
At the turn of the last century, the farm wife wouldn’t consider only using chicken breasts for the family’s dinner. She had a whole bird right there and knew the value of that whole chicken.
What a feast a roasted chicken is with farm-fresh vegetables for Sunday dinner.
Today, a whole organic bird, minimally processed, and raised without pesticides or hormones, costs around $1.99 or less per pound. If prudent, you’d shop when it’s on sale and purchase a second bird to freeze as well. Boneless and skinless chicken breasts are pricey, sometimes $4.00 to $7.00 per pound. They’re a “use once” meat and an-easy-to-overcook protein.
This recipe requires a whole chicken with garlic, lemon, table cream or milk, sage, and cinnamon. It’s a slow cooker dish without any fuss. I wish to mention that lemon makes milk curdle. If this bothers you, substitute cream as I did, as the higher fat content eliminates the separation of curds and whey separation. What a one-pot wonder!
The finished chicken is ready to serve and pull-apart tender. It has a rich cream sauce, which is suitable for a green vegetable like Swiss chard, baby spinach, or haricots/French green beans. I chose wilted baby spinach with some cream sauce and soft garlic cloves squeezed out of their jackets.
Slow Cooker Chicken in Milk
A 5-lb. chicken serves 4 generously, with two leg and thigh sections and two breast and wing sections.
1 organic roasting chicken, about 3½–5 lbs., cleaned and washed
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lemons, halved and zested
10 cloves garlic, left in their jackets
1 bunch fresh sage (preferred) or 1 tablespoon dried sage, rubbed through your hands to release the oils
1 pint table cream (preferred) or 1 pint whole milk
½ cinnamon stick (optional)
- Clean chicken cavity with salt and plenty of water. Remove lung (a dark purplish colored organ inside the cavity, near the tail) from the back and discard it, then rinse the area with salt and water. Pat chicken dry chicken with paper towels.
- Heat slow cooker to high setting. Add butter and oil. Add lemon zest (or zest lemons right into butter/oil mixture).
- Lay chicken breast-down in slow cooker and cook 10 minutes, then turn chicken breast-side up.
- Add all other ingredients in order given, placing cut lemons alongside chicken.
- Turn slow cooker to low. Cook 6–8 hours, depending on size of bird. Rest 10 minutes to let chicken cool.
- To serve, use a wide soup bowl. Place a dark green, slightly cooked vegetable of your choice in bowl, pull apart a section of chicken, and spoon some hot cream from bottom of pot and a few cloves of garlic to cover. The soft, creamy garlic is sweet and easily squeezed out of its jacket for spreading on greens.
Chef’s note: This unique dish satisfies some primal instinct. I just love pulling the chicken apart. I chose baby spinach. Don’t bother cooking it—the hot cream sauce and chicken is enough to wilt it while leaving a little crunch. You have to try this dish to believe it.
Image from Phyllis Quinn.