This is a classic "dump it and forget it" dish. Just rub the chicken with seasoning, add some lemon or orange juice and chicken broth, and set the timer. The result is the most tender chicken you've ever tasted with just the right amount of citrus-garlic flavor in every bite.
Video: Whole Citrus-Braised Chicken in Slow Cooker
You might wonder about the point of slow-cooking a chicken when roasting it is far quicker. For one thing, the texture and tenderness of this chicken is unbeatable. After basting for hours at low heat, the meat is literally falling off the bone. It is juicy, aromatic, and deeply flavored with lemon or orange (or a combo of both!), garlic, thyme, and a bit of rosemary.
This chicken is also pretty darn foolproof. The flavor may vary based on your chicken, the citrus you use, the number of garlic cloves you throw in, and so on, but the chicken itself is just as dependably good every time. You lose the crispy skin, but gain a certain peace of mind.
This is also the way that we like to cook chickens during the summer when it's too hot to turn on the oven. And let's face it — sometimes you just want to throw everything in a pot and go about your day with the knowledge that dinner is already done.
We've made a few tweaks to the recipe with this update, eliminating the fussier steps and streamlining our approach. Originally, we seared the chicken before adding it to the slow cooker (something we often advocate for adding more depth of flavor to dishes from the slow cooker), but over the years of making this particular recipe, we decided that searing the chicken didn't make much of a difference.
We also debated taking out the bouillon, but ultimately decided that we liked the richness and deep, savory note they add to the overall dish. Our favorite brands for bouillon with fewer artificial ingredients are Better than Bouillon and Penzeys Soup Base. If you'd rather skip the bouillon, however, that's perfectly fine.
And one recipe addition! We didn't want all that good cooking broth to go to waste, so we've started whipping up a quick gravy while the chicken is resting. All the lemons can sometimes make the gravy taste overly bitter, so thin it with some extra chicken stock and add a little salt if you find this to be the case.
Whole Citrus-Braised Chicken in the Slow Cooker
- For the chicken:
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
(4 to 5-pound) whole chicken
medium lemons or navel oranges, quartered
garlic, cloves separated but left in their skins
chicken bouillon cubes or 1 teaspoon bouillon paste, divided (optional, for richer flavor)
- For the sauce (optional):
low-sodium chicken broth
Place the garlic, oil, salt, and thyme leaves in a small bowl and mix to combine. Remove the bag of gizzards from the chicken and discard or reserve for stock. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Gently work your fingers under the skin covering the breast meat and slide them back and forth to separate the skin from the meat without tearing it. Scoop up a dollop of the seasoning and work it under the skin covering both breasts. Rub any remaining seasoning over the drumsticks and thighs. Transfer the chicken breast-side up into a 6-quart or larger slow cooker.
Squeeze and reserve the juice from 1 of the pieces of citrus into a medium bowl and set aside. Stuff the squeezed-out citrus rinds, 1 whole bouillon cube, and a few whole garlic cloves into the cavity of the chicken. Crumble the other remaining cube over the chicken and rub it into the skin. (If using bouillon paste, just rub all it over the skin over the breasts.) Arrange the remaining lemon quarters, remaining garlic cloves, and whole thyme around the chicken.
Add the broth and soy sauce to the reserved lemon juice and stir to combine. Pour it over the chicken.
Cover and cook on the HIGH setting until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 4 or for 6 hours. Add the rosemary in the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest 20 minutes. The wings and drumsticks may fall away as you lift the chicken; this is normal.
While the chicken is resting, pour the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan and bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Transfer 1/2 cup to a small bowl, add the flour, and whisk to combine. Slowly pour the flour slurry back into the saucepan while whisking constantly. Continue simmering and whisking until the gravy thickens. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
When ready to serve, remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Use your fingers to pull the meat away off the bones; it should come away easily with gentle pressure or use a knife as needed. Serve the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks right away and tear the remaining meat into shreds for using in leftovers. Serve with the gravy alongside.
The garlic cloves cooked with the chicken make an excellent spread. Pop them out of their skins, mash with a bit of salt, and serve with slices of crusty bread.
Cook times: Cooking times longer than 6 hours are not recommended. With longer cooking, the chicken bones start to become too soft, making it difficult to separate the meat and get a good gravy.
Cooking with rosemary: Rosemary tends to get bitter if cooked for too long. Adding it in the last 30 minutes of cooking helps give the dish rosemary flavor without the bitterness.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.