By Cat, Nov 2014 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Slow-roasting and slow-braising of meats like chicken and game hens are cooking methods that have become popular of late, not only for the amazing juiciness and flavor it produces, but also because the low heat/moist cooking environment is less damaging to the nutrients in the meat. Perhaps the most important health benefit of slow-cooking is that it minimizes glycation and its adverse affects.
A slow-braise includes a fair amount of added liquid to the cooking pot; a slow-roast uses only a little liquid- just a bit of moisture to keep the meat from drying out. Both use a low heat setting.
While the slow method is especially useful for tougher cuts of meat, it is also good for tender cuts. This method can be done in a baking oven (slow-roasting), Dutch oven on stovetop, or a crock pot on the counter.
How low is “low heat?”
Crock pot recipes have perfected this cooking method, using the low-heat setting. However, you can also use a Dutch oven or saucier on stovetop, or your baking oven.
On stove-top: lowest simmer your stove can handle. For my 1948-vintage gas range (with 2 open and 2 solid burners), I use a solid burner, bring the pot to a slight boil, then reduce the burner to its simmer setting and add a simmer plate. In this simmer mode, it still bubbles, but only occasionally. Using a heavy-bottomed saucier or cast iron Dutch Oven spreads the heat most evenly so there are no hot-spots.
In the oven: any temperature at or below 300°F (see Slow-Roasting Temperatures and Time, below).
Of course, it takes longer to slow-braise or roast on stove-top or in oven, 3 – 4 hours for a 4 pound chicken. Add to that the minimum 4-hour brining time (for a whole chicken; less for pieces), and you can see that this is an all-day cooking method.
For all recipes, use a free-range, pasture-raised chicken, preferably grown by a local farmer you trust. Here in Bigfork, I use chickens raised by a local Hutterite colony.
Slow-Braising or Roasting Temperature & Time
The following times are for a whole or butterflied bird; braising/roasting pieces takes less time.
- Slow Cooker on Low: 5 – 6 hours;
- Stove-top braise at simmer: 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or up to 3 hours with simmer plate;
- 300°F oven requires about 3 hours of roasting time;
- 275°F lengthens the roasting time to 3.5 – 4 hours;
- 250°F requires 5 hours of roasting time.
- Brining before roasting/braising helps the meat, to retain moisture; this is especially important for breast meat which tends to dry out when cooked. Brining also improves the flavor by taking up salt into the meat (rather than just on the surface. Additional flavors (herbs, spices) can be added to the brine as well.
- Most recipes recommend seasoning with salt, pepper and herbs; some include a simple stuffing (garlic and lemon slices, or an onion, for example), but a heavy bread stuffing will not work with this method (because it won’t get to a safe temperature in the cavity of the bird).
- Brush breast, legs and thighs with melted butter, or lay strips of bacon over the breast (especially if the breast is not brined).
- Frequent basting after the first hour or so is also important when roasting in oven. Some recipes recommend foil or paper sack tent, which is used for the entire roasting period except the last 30 minutes of cooking. If you want crispy skin, don’t baste for the last 45 minutes or so, and raise the heat to 350°F for the last 5 – 10 minutes.
- After roasting, let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.