British chef Jamie Oliver's recipe for chicken braised in milk has made the rounds here at The Kitchn, and we all agree it is absolutely divine. It's a recipe that takes some trust — cook a whole chicken in milk? But trust you should — the results more than speak for themselves.
This lemony, sage-infused chicken with its incredible golden sauce has become a perennial visitor to my autumn menus, and this year, I decided to take it to the slow cooker. Here's my riff on the original — same tender chicken, now with even more hands-off time.
Switching this recipe from the Dutch oven to the slow cooker is practically seamless. The cooking methods are nearly identical, so making it in the slow cooker primarily means extending the cooking time. Jamie Oliver cooks his chicken with the lid removed, but we at The Kitchn have discovered we actually prefer it with the lid on — just like in a slow cooker.
I would normally reduce the amount of liquid for a slow-cooker recipe, but that golden sauce you get at the end is so dang good that I decided to let it ride. (And FYI, I did not regret this decision.)
No, the biggest debate I had in converting this recipe was actually whether or not to sear the chicken before putting it in the slow cooker. I'm a big fan of slow-cooker recipes that let you throw it all in the pot and walk away, so I was tempted to do away with the searing step altogether. But when I brought this up at Kitchn HQ, our executive editor, Faith, argued that the deep, caramelized flavor from searing the chicken and scraping the browned bits from the pan are actually a crucial flavor component to this otherwise fairly simple dish. After much soul searching, I finally decided that I agree.
This led me to make one addition to Jamie's recipe that — dare I say it? — I think actually improves upon the original. After searing the chicken to a deeply pleasing shade of golden-brown, I deglazed the pan with some hard cider and poured it over the chicken in the slow cooker. Wammo! This touch of apple sweetness really puts the special in the special sauce here, and I think I'll adopt this change even when I make the oven version.
If you've never made this recipe before, you might be alarmed at the condition of the cooking liquid when you lift the lid. The milk, which helps make the chicken oh-so-tender, will split and curdle during cooking, and the finished sauce can look less than appealing. I encourage you to embrace the ugly. Those curds are heavenly, as is the golden liquid in which they are swimming.
If the idea is just a bit too unappetizing for you, I understand — strain the curds and serve the liquid by itself alongside your plates of chicken. Save any leftover sauce for adding to soups or cooking grains.
Slow-Cooker Chicken in Milk
4- to 5-pound chicken
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 cup hard cider or apple juice
10 cloves garlic, left unpeeled
1/4 cup lightly packed sage leaves
1/2 whole cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
Zest from two medium lemons
2 1/4 cups whole milk
Remove the chicken from its packaging and pull the bundle of giblets from inside; discard or reserve the giblets for another use. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Mix together the salt and pepper, and rub this all over the chicken.
→ At this point, you can sear the chicken for deeper flavor, or you can transfer it directly to a 6-quart or larger slow cooker, breast-side down. If you skip the searing step, reduce the amount of cider to 1/2 cup and don't use the olive oil.
To sear the chicken, warm the tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Sear the chicken on all sides until deep golden-brown; use tongs to help turn it as you sear. The heat in the pan should be hot enough that you hear a constant sizzle as you sear the chicken; reduce the heat slightly if the oil begins to smoke.
Transfer the seared chicken to the bowl of a 6-quart or larger slow cooker and lay it breast-side down.
Pour off any grease left in the pan and return the pan to heat. Add the cider and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the cider simmers. Continue simmering the cider until it has reduced by roughly half. Pour the cider over the chicken.
Rub any loose papery skins from the garlic cloves, but otherwise leave them in their peels. Scatter the garlic cloves, sage leaves, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest on top of and around the chicken, then pour the milk over top.
Cover the slow cooker and cook for 4 to 6 hours on low heat.
To serve, lift the chicken from the slow cooker and transfer it to a cutting board; the legs or wings may fall off. Carve the chicken into pieces; you can leave the skin on or remove it, as you like.
Scoop the garlic cloves from the cooking liquid and scatter them over the chicken pieces. Transfer the liquid to a serving dish, straining if you'd prefer to remove the solid curds (although they're tasty!). Serve everything while still piping hot.