Let me start by saying, we don’t live in a farming community. Our neighbors don’t have chickens. Our neighbor’s neighbors don’t have chickens. You don’t often hear the sound of a rooster crowing miles away. There are no roosters. We’re the odd ones. So forgive me if I sound as though I’m preaching to the choir, but I was struck with a rather alarming prospect the other night. The incident happened whilst I was preparing chicken and dumplings for some friends to come over.
You see, I always start with a whole chicken. They’re the cheapest. I’m not going to pay double for someone else to cut up my chicken, and in my opinion, they’re the most useful form of a chicken. Not to mention that in a couple of weeks we will have 14 farm-fresh chickens being added to our freezer. (We’re getting them processed late; it’s a long story!) But anyway, our friends came a little early and were horrified at the site of me cutting up a whole chicken. I was informed that they “don’t eat ‘bone in’ chicken, only boneless, skinless, frozen chicken breasts, because it doesn’t have the ‘purple stuff’ by the bone.”
Alrighty then … as I laid down the knife. At this point in the evening, I thought it wise to neglect telling them that I had boiled the carcass to make the broth for the dumplings, and that we collect the livers in the freezer until we have enough to make a fried chicken liver dinner. Needless to say, as far as dinner was concerned that night, the corn and mashed potatoes were a real hit, and we had plenty of chicken and dumpling leftovers for the next day.
In passing, I mentioned our dinner to another one of my friends. She also informed me that she doesn’t eat bone-in chicken, and for the first part of her married life, she only ate chicken from a can. This is worse than I expected.
I was now on a mission. I started calling friends to find out their chicken-preparing fancies, and after extensive research, I found that most of my friends, my age, don’t know how to cut up a chicken! What a tragic commentary on our generation!
Now, I say that I’m preaching to the choir because this is a CHICKEN website. Please don’t judge. I’m sure most of the readers out there know how to cut up a chicken, but, in case you don’t, and you don’t have to admit who you are, here’s how I do it. I’m not sure if it’s the right way, or the correct way. I’m sure it’s not the only way. But it’s what I’ve always done, and what my mom’s always done. So here goes, roll up your sleeves.
Enter … The Chicken. This is a store-bought chicken, it’s all we had in the freezer. Start with safe handling and thawing instructions. Always wash your hands after handling chicken and wash surfaces that have been touched by chicken or chicken juices.
Also, use a good sharp knife. It will make all the difference, and it may sound ironic, but a sharp, large knife is usually safer than a small or dull one.
I start by rinsing the chicken thoroughly in cold running water. Starting at the front, I pull back the neck bone and slice down at a wedge until the bone breaks free.
Then I flip the chicken to the rear. There are two flaps of fatty skin that close around the opening. I cut these off, and the tail, in the same wedge direction as the neck. Then I clean the cavity. I allow the water to run into the cavity and it loosens any dark material.
I reach inside carefully (the rib bones are sometimes sharp) and pull out the liver. This I wrap tightly in freezer paper and freeze. (Please, if you don’t eat liver, give it a chance. It’s delicious fried in flour with caramelized onions!)
Next, there are two cavities, or pockets, that run along the spine. I press the tip of my finger against them to extract the dark matter that will come out. I remove this, and run the water over the chicken inside and out until it’s clean.
I place the chicken on a large cutting board, breast side up, and begin removal of the legs. I pull the leg out slightly and cut the web of skin that is attached, continuing through the meat until I hit bone.
There is a joint in this area. If I pull the leg slightly the joint will pop free and I can continue to cut the thigh and leg off.
Sometimes I use this piece as is, but sometimes I want the thigh separate from the leg. There is another joint that connects these.
I slice down to the bone again, pop the joint and continue the slice all the way through. I repeat this process for the other leg and thigh.
Then the wings. These are even easier. Again, I pull the wing away from the bird, slice though the web of skin to the bone, pop that joint and continue the slice. Then I repeat on the other side.
Now the breast meat. At this point I usually re-arrange the bird, straighten the skin, etc. I run the knife down the center spine and feel the rib bones flaring to either side. I cut the breast meat away from the bone so I end up with two nice, boneless cuts that I usually cut in half again for a nice portion size.
I slide the knife down the angle of the ribs, pulling the meat away from the bone as I go as to see where I need to cut. The breast meat comes off in one large sheet.
Then I cut this in half, and repeat for the other breast. I now have a beautiful collection of cut-up chicken parts. But wait, there’s more! Save that chicken carcass! I boil the bones and back meat in water, a little butter, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, salt and fresh cracked pepper, to make a delicious stock that can be strained and stored in the freezer. The back meat is edible too.
I hope I’ve helped someone by writing this. There are many benefits to starting with whole chickens, here’s a few I could think of.
- You can raise your own chickens how you want your food to be raised and then prepare it.
- If that’s not plausible, you can purchase them at the store for cheaper. Especially when buying organic.
- You can make stock with the bones.
- You can cut your chicken how you want it, for example leaving the thigh and leg intact. This works well when roasting because the larger cut roasts more evenly with the breasts.
- You can save and use the organ meats! Delicious!
- The skin and the bones give the chicken more flavor.
- You can brag to your less-domestic friends that you know how to cut up a chicken!
Check out what we do around our farm by clicking here: Iron Oak Farm.