I hate using canned broth–almost as much as I detest those little dusty bouillon cubes in the foil wrappers.  I try to keep homemade chicken broth or stock on hand, but I always manage to run out, especially during the soup season.  And how are you supposed to chip a quarter cup of liquid off a giant frozen lump?  More often than I care to admit, I run to my little jar of chicken-flavored, gold-wrapped salt and pretend it’ll turn into broth.  Gross.

Want to know a secret?  Making homemade chicken stock isn’t all that hard.  In fact, you can do it overnight in a crock pot, wake up to a delicious aroma, and pretend you slaved all day (or night) when in fact you just threw a bunch of scraps together and hit the switch.

This recipe is actually two-for-one:  you start with a beautiful, tender, slow-cooked whole chicken for dinner, then turn the leftover bones and juices into a delicious stock (or is it a broth? I can never keep them straight).  In fact, you can even reserve the breast meat for another recipe, like my mom’s delicious chicken a la king (more on that another time).  I’m including instructions for a super basic roast chicken as well as some alternate versions.  You can certainly add or subtract ingredients as you see fit–there’s plenty of inspiration out there (here’s one of my favorites, although I omit the lemon).  The instructions here are my own, although I got all the ideas from my friend DoRena.

Slow Cooker Roast Chicken (Basic Version)
Time:  4-6 hours
Serves about 4, depending on size of chicken (or use as a meal for 2 and save leftover meat for another recipe)

whole chicken, small enough to fit in your crock pot
1-2 large onions, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup cooking sherry (optional)
2-3 T. olive oil
dried or chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary
coarse salt
fresh-ground black pepper

Rinse chicken and pat dry (don’t forget to remove the giblets; you can either toss them or refrigerate them for the stock).  In bottom of crock pot liner, place onion pieces and garlic cloves; sprinkle with sherry, if desired.  Set chicken on top, breast down (this allows the breast meat to simmer in its own juices, keeping it moist).*  Brush top and sides of chicken with olive oil; sprinkle with herbs, salt, and pepper.

Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours, until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 F.  (Cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken, of course; I usually just let it go 6 hours without checking and it’s ready by then.  You might want to check a particularly small chicken after 4 hours and again every hour.  Avoid opening the crock pot too often, as it increases cooking time.)

Remove chicken and onions to a serving dish (use large serving forks to scoop it up, as the chicken tends to fall apart).  Let juices rest in the covered crock pot (I turn it off or on warm).  Set aside all bones and skin for stock (I set a bowl on the table for scraps–this is admittedly not the most beautiful dish to serve company).

Slow Cooker Roast Chicken (Roast Veggies Version)

Prepare as described above, but to the onions and garlic, add one or both of the following:

3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 lb. potatoes (any variety), scrubbed and cut into 2-inch chunks

Slow Cooker Roast Chicken (Broiler Version)

Prepare as described above, but before serving, carefully place chicken in a metal 9×13 pan (or other broiler-safe dish).  Broil on high 4-5 minutes or until skin is browned and crispy (keep an eye on it).

*Note:  If you’re planning on broiling the chicken, I recommend cooking it breast side up in the crock pot.  That way, the breast will already be covered in olive oil and herbs, and you won’t have to worry about trying to flip it before broiling.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
Time:  8 hours or overnight

bones, skin, cartilage, and giblets (optional) from whole cooked chicken
juices remaining in slow cooker from whole cooked chicken
1 bay leaf
1 T. whole peppercorns
leftover vegetable peelings or trimmings (optional)
cold tap water

Return chicken carcass, skin, and giblets, if desired, to juices in crock pot.  I usually throw any leftover cooked onions and garlic back in there, too.  Add bay leaf and peppercorns.  If you have any vegetable peelings on hand (some ambitious people save them in the freezer for stock), toss those in too.  Add water to about 1 1/2 inches below top of liner.  Cover and cook on low overnight (about 8 hours).

Remove lid and allow to cool slightly.  Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove as many bones and scraps as possible; discard.  Set a mesh strainer over a large bowl; ladle stock through strainer into bowl to remove any remaining scraps.

Cover bowl and refrigerate about 24 hours.  This optional step allows fat to rise to the top and solidify, making it easy to remove with a large spoon.  Removing the fat results in a clearer stock (and, of course, a lower fat one).

Freeze any stock that will not be used within a day or two.  I like to freeze it in one- or two-cup increments for use in soups (clean sour cream containers are perfect for this).  You can also use a muffin pan to freeze stock in 1/4-cup amounts for recipes that call for smaller amounts of broth/stock.  Once the liquid is frozen solid, run hot tap water over the underside of the muffin pan until the “cubes” are released.  Refreeze in gallon zip-top bags (I like to keep them in a single layer so they don’t stick together).