Crock Pot Tales: Fixin' Chicken Thighs n' Legs

Chicken legs and thighs are by far my favorite part of our fine feathered friend. In fact most of the chicken flavor are in the thighs and legs. If you don't like dark meat you can use chicken breast, which most Americans tend to eat. I used to be in that category until I really started to experiment with leg quarters in soups and on the grill. The thing is white meat is easy to dry out and doesn't have as much chicken flavor compared to a pair of thighs an legs.

Chicken Fact: Raw chicken can be frozen for up to two years without significant changes in flavor or texture. This is a good fact to keep in mind, especially when there is an incredible sale on chicken. I like to take advantage of the 89 cent/lb sales. I'll usually grab and extra pound or two for the freezer. The great thing is you can take your chicken from the freezer to the crock pot, however it will take a bit longer to cook, but that's what crock pot cooking is all about any ways.

There are really four key elements to cooking chicken thighs and legs in the crock pot:  meat, spices, liquid, and time.
The Basics
If you are looking to make some chicken to keep in the fridge for the next few days or to freeze for general use the following are some tips to keep in mind. You want to take a minimalists approach to seasoning your chicken. Once cooked it will allow you to use your chicken in just about any dish you can think of, such as tacos, chicken noodle soup, chicken sandwiches, chicken stir fry, and much much more the possibilities are really endless  when it comes to the culinary arts.

This is where you can be as creative as you like, but lets start out with the simple classic seasoning salt and pepper, which is a must on any kind of chicken in my book. Here is a quick and simple spice mix that isn’t too over baring and will allow you to use the chicken  in just about any kind of dish that calls for chicken.

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Legs in the crock pot
In a separate bowl pour equal parts (about 1tbs spoon) of each and mix well.

  • Paprika
  • White Pepper or Black Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Oregano
  • And ½ tbs of Salt
Mix your chicken and spices together and make sure that the chicken is coated very well. Now if you are using frozen chicken I recommend that if it is in a block that you separate all the pieces, this will help ensure even spicing and it will give each piece a fair chance to cook evenly.
Here is a list of ingredient combinations I like to use in addition to salt and pepper when I am looking to make chicken in a particular style or for a particular dish.

Mexican (used in tacos, enchiladas, nachos, burritos, tortas, or soups):

  • Spices: coriander, and oregano. It wouldn't really be Mexican if it didn't have some chili powder and or any other kind of chili like chipotle, anchor, Anaheim, or any other from the Southern American region.
  • Liquid: I will use a Mexican beer or chicken broth/ stock
  • Vegetables and herbs: onion, garlic, green onions, cilantro, etc.

Italian (used in pasta dishes, stuffed pasta shells, lasagna, or stuffed mushrooms):

  • Spices: garlic, oregano, chili pepper, bay leaves, fennel, basil, onion, parsley, rosemary, sage, and or thyme. You an find Italian herbs mixes almost in any grocery store. I do recommend using fresh herbs when you can. In my pantry I have all the herbs you would find in a traditional Italian Herb mix, in the event I have some of them fresh and at that point I make my own using both fresh and dried herbs.
  • Liquid: White wine (Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay), chicken or vegetable stock/ broth, tomato sauce, or pasta sauce.
  • Vegetables: onion, garlic, green onions, bell peppers, squash, eggplant, mushrooms, etc.

If you are in a hurry to work try an Italian chicken burrito, by cooking the chicken in your favorite pasta sauce. Once it is cooked shred your chicken, put into a burrito size tortilla, add mushrooms, cheese, sliced black olives and some rice or even spaghetti. Burrito wraps come in handy when you want to eat some left overs on the road.

Caribbean Flavors (over rice, patties, or just on its own):

  • Spices: all spice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, onion, thyme, and or chili
  • Vegetables and or Fruits: Limes, onions, peppers, scallions and or tamarinds.
  • Liquid: white wine, Jamaican beer (Red Stripe baby), some Caribbean style hot sauce (my favorite is Susie’s Hot Sauce) and or chicken stock/ broth.

Asian (used in stir frees, with rice, soups, chow mein, ramen, etc) :

  • Spices: Now Asia is a big place with one of the most diverse culinary styles on any continent. So what I am recommending is your basic Chinese fair. There are many books out there that explore each region of Asia. For example Indian food is from the Asian continent, but deserves a whole category unto its self.  Roll with 5 Spice powder, ginger, Star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and hot mustard.
  • Liquids: I usually take some chicken stock/ broth or miso broth and mix with one of the following; Hoisin sauce, Sweet and Spicy sauce, Teriyaki, Sweet and Sour, Black Bean Sauce, Ground Fresh Chili paste, Sirracha, Sesame oil, and much more. There are so many types of sauces and pre made sauces you can use for Asian flavors.
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, baby corn, Asian mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, etc. 
Indian (curries, rice dishes, eat with naan bread or soups):

  • Spices: These are the spices I use most in Indian cuisine are chili pepper, tarragon, cumin , turmeric , fenugreek, ginger , coriander , garlic or curry powder. Indian cuisine is very vast and one could spend a life time becoming a master.
  • Liquids: chicken stock/ broth, coconut milk, sesame oil, peanut oil, and or curry pastes
  • Vegetables: Peas, potatoes, carrots, ginger, bell peppers, cauliflower, eggplant, beans, etc.

Greek (I tend to do many dishes with rice and pita breads)

  • Spices: Cinnamon, white pepper, black pepper,  cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cumin, paprika, pink, saffron, sesame, chamomile, marjoram, mint, oregano, sage, basil, thyme, rosemary, dill, fennel, celeriac, flat-leaved parsley, coriander, and or bay leaves.
  • Liquids: olive oil, lemon juice, white wine, and or chicken broth/ stock
  • Vegetables: onion, tomatoes, olives, fennel, peppers, zucchini, etc. 

American (Pulled Chicken, sandwiches, soups, toppings for mashed potatoes, chicken pot pie):

Pulled Chicken Tacos
Spices: Salt, pepper, cumin, celery seed, chili powder, garlic, onion, mustard, oregano, and much more. After all American food is really defined by the immigrant influences in a particular region.

I could go on and on with many recommendations of what spices, liquids, and styles you can use. The point is that the technique when cooking in a crock pot is essentially the same and that you could use the crock pot to cook chicken in many different ways.

Keep in mind the four elements to crock pot chicken: meat, spices, liquid and time. Choose an assortment of spices that will marry well with the liquid and ultimately complement the chicken. Then all you need is time to work its magic. The aroma of good crock pot food filling the house is never unpleasant.

Liquids and Soups
Your crock pot will not work right if there is not at least 1/2 cup of liquid in it. You can use water, broth, juice, wine, etc. Usually, the meat juices will add to the liquid, which can make for a great broth. If you have the chance marinate your meat over night in the liquid you will be using for extra flavor.

If you are gonna use your crock pot to cook a recipe that calls for an oven, use less amounts of liquid than you would use in most oven recipes when using the low setting, since the crock pot retains most of the moisture that would otherwise evaporate when cooking in the oven. You can always add more liquids for sauces about an hour before your crock pot is done cooking. You will likely end up with more liquid at the end of cooking times, because the meats and vegetables will release their juices while cooking. If you desire a thinner soup, add more liquid at the end of the cooking time.

Rice, noodles, macaroni, seafood, vegetables and milk do not hold up well when cooked for more than 8 hours. Use these sauces or liquids about 2 hours before serving when using LOW setting (or 1 hour on HIGH). If you want to use milk in an 8-10 hour recipe, you should use evaporated milk.

Giving Chicken Time
Browning your chicken before is not necessary but will help reduce the fat content. Cooking time should range
6-9 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high.

Once the food is about an hour away from being cooked give it a taste test and add spices if needed. Whole herbs and spices increase their flavoring ability in while cooking in the crock pot. Ground spices may lose some their flavor during the cooking process.

Quick Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Chicken

1lb of chicken meat (legs and or thighs)
6 Cloves of crushed garlic
1/2 large onion chopped
1tbs of white powder
1/2 ginger powder
1/2 cup of sweet and spicy sauce (or you can use chili paste and honey)
1 cup of chicken broth
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
Garnish with sesame seeds and or your favorite Fumi Furikake rice seasoning

For more tips on crock pot cooking and tips on cooking with vegetables with your chicken check out my post “Crockpot Tales: Tips On How to get your Crock On

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