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I tried to slow cook chicken today using the hob on my gas cooker. I started on a very very low heat and just left it for an hour and noticed it was doing a good job of absorbing flavours in the liquid which is what I wanted. I then slowly brought it to a simmer, simmered for 10 minutes and then lowered to low poach and left it for 45 minutes. Unfortunately upon taking it out I noticed leg pieces seemed overcooked and where falling apart and juices had come out.

From my understanding slow cooking is cooking at lowest temperatures of poaching up to simmering and doing it for between 4 to 8 hours. Having tried and thought about it if you cook chicken for 4 hours at low poaching of course it is going to overcook and tear up. 4 hours is too much for chicken let alone 8. Anyway have I missed something here or how do you slow cook chicken without overcooking it?

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What cuts were you cooking? Cheaper cuts like leg and thigh will start to fall apart when slow cooking, that's kind of the point! –  ElendilTheTall Feb 28 '12 at 22:45
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Did you try eating the dark meat that was falling apart? You might find it quite good, and not tough. Good slow-cooked meat isn't overcooked. –  Jefromi Feb 28 '12 at 22:47
    
Yes thats right, the leg and thighs were falling apart which i thought means overcooked. How is that 'kind of the point'? My whole goal was to absorb flavour from the liquid, when something is falling apart doesn't that mean flavours are starting to come back out? –  James Wilson Feb 29 '12 at 0:08
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Falling apart does not mean overcooked. We've tried to explain this before; tender = just enough, tough = overcooked. Slow cooking uses a very low temperature which makes it difficult to overcook. Extended cooking also breaks down the connective tissue which makes the meat "fall off the bone". None of this has any relationship to absorption of flavours. Meat doesn't "hold" flavour/salt/whatever, it just holds water and whatever happens to be in the water, and as long as the temperature is kept low and liquid is not allowed to escape (evaporate), it will reach equilibrium fairly quickly. –  Aaronut Feb 29 '12 at 2:03
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@JamesWilson: I plan to put together a full answer for this later (hopefully tomorrow or Thursday) but just want to make sure that you're aware that before you taste something containing raw chicken, you should heat it to 165°F/74°C (ok, technically lower temperatures are OK if held for long enough) else you risk food poisoning. –  derobert Feb 29 '12 at 8:14
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2 Answers 2

You have to pack the chicken breast in ice before cooking. If the chicken breast is really cold or frozen when you start, it will be tender at the same time of the legs. If you don't the breast will be either overcooked or the legs undercooked. This happens because of the different composition of the meats on the chicken.

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why the negativity? –  Doug Feb 17 '13 at 7:11
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Yes, you are slow-cooking correctly. If you were cooking some chicken adobo then having the meat fall off the bone is intended.

Otherwise if you want to serve if while everything is still attached, you can do so anytime after you have simmered or poached the chicken (making it safe to eat), not sure it qualifies as slow cooking however. As pointed out by @Aaronut, extended cooking will break down connective tissues - it breaks down collagen.

  • If your chicken is fat, then it may take longer to break down.
  • You can develop a caramel crust on your chicken so that it holds longer and lock in the juices.
  • tip: put the fattier part on top, so that it runs down the chicken.

Here is some information about searing; it can cause a maillard reaction which does a few interesting things:

  • it will add more complex and varied flavors, by reacting the sugars, amino acid, and heat.
  • caramelize stuff, e.g. onions :D

In some cases, pressure-cooking can achieve the same results as slow-cooking in less time, while making it easier for the maillard reaction to happen.

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+1 for the juices –  Doug Feb 17 '13 at 7:10
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