In honor of flu season and getting through it (as we have been doing at my house this week), here's my very favorite slow-cooker chicken broth and shredded chicken recipe.
Don't be intimidated by the multi-step process! Making your own chicken stock (aka broth) in your slow cooker is super easy, and does not take very much hands-on time at all. Your slow cooker does all the work.
I make this chicken stock and shredded chicken about twice a month -- it's a super economical way to eat delicious and nutritious chicken. And all the "work" can happen at naptime, before bedtime, and the next morning. Each hands-on step takes about 10 minutes.
In the end, you'll have about 4-6 cups of shredded chicken (I usually freeze half for later), and about 6-8 cups of super-good-for-you (especially if you have the flu!) homemade chicken broth. As you may know, recipes calling for chicken broth and shredded chicken are easy to find and kid-friendly.
Step I: Start with a healthy 3-4 pound whole chicken -- pasture-raised, if possible. We get our chickens from our CSA share at Pat's Pastured. Rinse your chicken, including in the cavity, with cold water.
Step 2: Chop up 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, a bunch of parsley, 1 onion and put it in your slow cooker with the chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste (I usually add about 1 Tbs. salt and several grinds of pepper). Then add enough water so that it fills about 2/3 of your slow cooker, about 6-7 cups. Turn your slow cooker on low and cook for 6-7 hours until your chicken is cooked through (see below). If you're unsure if it's fully-cooked, use a meat thermometer. (Note: I usually do steps 1-2 during the kids naptime, around 1pm, so that I can do Step 3, below, before going to bed. But you can do this anytime you know you'll be around 7 hours later to cut the chicken off the bone.)
Your chicken will be very tender and will fall apart a little as you dig it out of the slow cooker, which is okay. There's no totally graceful way to do this part and it doesn't have to be perfect. I like to put a towel down in front of the cutting board so the hot broth doesn't leak all over me.
Step 4: Add the bones, skin and fatty parts back into the slow cooker to make the broth. Add more water if you wish (I usually add about 2 more cups) and salt and pepper to taste. Add a bay leaf if you want, and I like to add 1 Tbs. white vinegar which helps to draw the nutrients out of the chicken bones and into the broth. Turn the slow cooker on low for another 8 hours (I usually let it cook overnight and I do Step 5 the following morning).
Put the shredded chicken you just cut off the bones into storage containers in the refrigerator or freezer for later use in other recipes. If you freeze some of the chicken, be sure to label it with the date. It should be good for about 2-3 months (though ours never lasts that long -- we eat it!).
(Note: I should add that while the shredded chicken is super tender and will be tasty used in other forthcoming recipes, most of which will have you sauteé your shredded chicken with onions and spices anyway, it is quite bland coming straight out of this recipe. My kids love the bland chicken, but I prefer to spice it up in the skillet before adding it to, say, enchiladas.)
Using a soup ladle, wire mesh sieve with cheesecloth over it, and a large pot, strain the broth out of the chunky soup into the large pot. Discard the chunky chicken and vegetable bits left in the cheesecloth. (Or, if you have kids who like mashed up cooked carrots, mash up the carrots and serve 'em up! My kids aren't so into mashed-up carrots, as it turns out.)
Step 6: Let the broth cool off a bit and transfer to storage containers for the freezer or fridge. Again, label and date it if you plan to freeze it. If you want, do like I did and save 4 cups of the warm broth to make risotto for dinner!
And that's it!