Learn Meredith Leigh’s method of butchering a chicken carcass into 8 pieces.
Chicken is a great place to hone your cutting skills. We’ll cover the standard, eight-piece cut, and offer a slight variation, which will come in handy when you’re frying chicken.
Begin by removing the wings. Stretch the wing as far as you can and move the joint up and down to find the socket. Using a semiflexible boning knife, cut the wing off at the shoulder, aiming for the space between the ball in the arm bone and the socket in the shoulder.
Variation/ confession: I’m not big on the stand-alone chicken wing, so I like to cut the wing off with a bit of breast meat to accompany. To do this, simply angle your knife at about 45 degrees from the wishbone and cut off part of the breast as you remove the wing.
Next, free the oysters. This will assist you in pulling the legs off intact. The oysters are small, round, tender pieces of dark meat located on the chicken’s back, one on either side of the spine. You’ll find them right at the spot where the legs join the body, and this is where you’ll make the first cut, across the back.
You’ll see the oysters on either side of the spine. Use your boning knife to make small cuts close to the bone, undercutting the oysters and scooping them free. Leave them attached to the skin.
Removing the Legs
Now, flip the chicken back over so it is breast up, so you can remove the legs. Stretch each leg out at the hip and cut through the skin until you see meat.
Find the hip joint by gently wiggling the thigh to and fro, following accordingly with your knife. Pull back on the entire leg, peeling it away from the breast. You’ll eventually pull the hip out of joint, after which you can follow through to remove the oysters along with the entire leg.
Next, divide the drumstick from the thigh. First identify the seam of fat at the joint, and begin your cut there. Once you’ve cut into the meat, you’ll be able to see the joint clearly, and cut directly between the bones for a clean break.
The next step is to remove the backbone. You can use poultry shears for this if you’re nervous, but it’s not that tough to do with your boning knife. Just come at the spine at about a 45-degree angle, making close, downward cuts parallel to the spine. If your knife gets too vertical, you’ll run into resistance, so as long as you keep that nice, slight angle, you’ll be fine.
Split the Breasts
Finally, split the breasts. In between the two breast pieces is the sternum, or breast plate. I make straight cuts down either side of the keel in the breastbone and then start pulling the breast meat off of it with my hands, running fingers under the meat and close to the bone. Once you’ve exposed enough of the bone that you feel like you can pull it out, do it.
You’ll be left with breast meat that has ribs attached. You can remove the ribs by hand if you like, or use your boning knife to separate them from the back of the breast muscles.
Excerpt from Meredith Leigh’s The Ethical Meat Handbook: Complete Home Butchery, Charcuterie and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore. Used with permission of New Society Publishers.