Slow Cooker Thanksgiving

Sunday November 22, 2015

turkey as icon and half a day of work in the kitchen

Oh is it Thanksgiving again already? A month until Christmas? It was just Fourth of July…where did the year go? So gearing up to the month devoted to eating and gatherings of all type, why not have an easy Thanksgiving feast?

Cooking turkey in a slow cooker is so easy it is almost what we would call a no-brainer: load up the crock with the ingredients and turn it on.  Turkey is lean and tasty and no longer needs to be delegated just to Thanksgiving. But it works for a hassle-free holiday meat as well. There has always been a problem keeping the breast moist, but no longer with the slow cooker method.  Here you cook the breast in a simple braising liquid and serve with a flavorful gravy made from the juices.  If you have a second slow cooker, consider making a stuffing for a festive meal. Mash some potatoes, steam some green veggie. Don’t forget some cranberry sauce by the Happy Cook herself.

The Happy Cook is the late Dolores Kostelni and was one of my favorite radio interviewers. She was telling me on the air about making cranberry sauce in the slow cooker and later left a message with the details so I could reproduce her recipe.  Use bags of fresh cranberries within two weeks of purchase so that they won’t get mushy or shriveled.  If you use frozen cranberries, do not defrost, but plan on an extra 30 to 45 minutes in the cooker. Its totally yummy and you can make it the weekend before no problem.

the road not taken/Robert Frost

I remember when my girlfriend, who owns one of the hot local restaurants, served a single Cornish hen per person for Thanksgiving dinner menu instead of the regular turkey. It was a great hit and just that little bit different than the traditional to be fun. Cornish game hens are like a small plump chicken. Unlike a full-sized chicken, Cornish Game Hens are entirely white meat (which I didn’t know-no wonder they are so good) and are sold in 2.2 lbs. sizes or less. They are easy to handle, easy to defrost if you have a few in the freezer, and are even big enough to stuff.

The Cornish Game Hen was first bred in 1950 and was the result of crossbreeding the short-legged, plump-breasted Cornish chicken with various other chickens. Shortly after it was developed, Tyson founders began raising Cornish Game Hens, and by 1980, was the largest domestic producer of the product. Today, nearly two-thirds of Cornish Game Hens sold in the United States come from Tyson.

You will need to halve the hens and real kitchen shears (which are as sharp as a knife and all the knife manufacturers usually offer one) is the tool for the job. Look for the Cornish game hen in the frozen foods section of the supermarket, stash in the freezer, then thaw yourself. Or for easier preparation, buy one already thawed or fresh from the butcher counter, and have him halve it and remove the backbone for you.

Here is a basic recipe for crock-braising split game hens and then cooked with the stuffing conveniently on one side and sweet potatoes on the other. It was created by my friend Mary Cantori on one of her yearly autumn camping trips in a Dutch oven and was so delicious, she made it again immediately upon returning home in the slow cooker. Mary makes her own cornbread, but I have substituted packaged stuffing mix for its easy availability. It is finished off with one of Mary’s a la momento sauces that are just perfect–a combo of peach preserves and balsamic vinegar (use white balsamic if you have it).

Thaw poultry in the refrigerator in its original wrapping with a plate underneath in case of dripping, it is important that the bird remain cold while thawing, estimating 24 hours thaw time per 5 pounds; parts will thaw in half a day.  Refrigerate cooked poultry within 2 hours of cooking, never letting it come to room temperature first before refrigerating.  The sell by stamp date indicates 7 days after the bird was processed and it the cutoff date for sale. If you have a doubt, ask the butcher how fresh the bird is and when it should be cooked by.  Never buy frozen poultry that has frozen liquid in the package, an indication of being frozen after sitting or refrozen.  Freeze poultry about 9 to 10 months maximum.

Because poultry may carry potential harmful organisms or bacteria, take care when handling.  Thoroughly wash the poultry and dry it before working.  Wash your hands, work surfaces, and utensils with hot soapy water before and after handling.  Poultry is always cooked completely through (and never eaten raw), never rare like beef and lamb, since the organisms can permeate the meat, whereas on meat, the organisms are only on the surface.  Slow cooking is an excellent method to thoroughly cook poultry of all types.

Ah yes. Dessert. In lieu of pumpkin or apple pie, if you dare, you can have any dessert you desire…anything from a cranberry upside down cake to a mango crisp, or even a brownie sundae or scoops of sorbet with coconut lime slice-and-bake cookies. The autumn sky’s the limit.

dont forget to set the table/apples in the trifle bowl/beeswax candles/photo courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens

Slow Cooker Poultry Pointers

•Cook in your slow cooker with poultry that has been handled and stored properly.  Fresh poultry needs to be stored in the refrigerator until preparation time and cooked within 1 to 2 days to minimize bacterial growth.  Before cooking, rinse poultry thoroughly with cold water and pat dry.  Either load the slow cooker immediately with the raw poultry, or precook as directed in the recipe and place the poultry into the cooker immediately after browning.

•Since the slow cooker takes a few hours to reach a safe bacteria killing temperature, use poultry directly from the refrigerator to the cooker and get the cooker turned on quickly.  Please note the danger zone for bacterial growth in poultry is between 40ºF and 140ºF.  The heating rate for a slow cooker is 3 to 4 hours on the LOW setting to get the contents up to a safe food temperature of 140ºF to 165ºF; it will then increase to over 200ºF by 6 hours.  The same temperatures will be reached in half the amount of time on the HIGH setting.  We recommend not lifting the lid the first 3 to 4 hours to allow the heat to come to the proper cooking temperature as fast as possible.

•Never use room temperature poultry; it will reach the correct temperature as the slow cooker heats up.  Unless a recipe specifically calls for it, never use frozen poultry directly into the slow cooker since it will take much longer to reach a safe cooking temperature than defrosted refrigerated poultry.

•Poultry should be cooked throughout but still juicy and the juices run clear.  While all poultry has both white and dark meat, when properly cooked there will be no trace of pink when pierced with a fork at the thickest point.  Poultry is done when the internal temperature reaches about 180ºF on an instant read thermometer, an invaluable tool when cooking meat in the slow cooker.

Recipes and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


Cornish Game Hens with Cornbread Stuffing and Sweet Potatoes

Old Fashioned Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy and Cranberry Orange Sauce

Your Comments

2 comments Comments Feed
  1. Dolores Kostelni 24/01/2012 at 10:31 pm

    Hey, Beth,

    It is not Thanksgiving, but it’s cool enough to have Cornish hens for dinner. We followed your slow cooker method and loved every morsel, including my cranberry sauce.
    Thanks for all!
    Dolores Kostelni

  2. Beth 27/01/2012 at 8:34 am

    your cranberry sauce is the BEST! what I cant get over is how clean it is to cook poultry in the slow cooker.

Leave a Reply