How to Cut Up a Chicken

Well, for starters, you can buy more bird for your buck. Compare the savings of buying the average-size whole chicken, typically 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds, (which can serve a family of 4), to the 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast you will need, boned and skinned. Additionally, a whole chicken leaves you with a carcass you can boil into a rich broth.

You say you don't have the time or knowledge to hack through the whole bird? It's quicker and easier than you think. Like most kitchen skills worth cultivating, cutting up a whole chicken or boning it quickly is just a matter of practice.

Begin by rinsing the chicken, patting it dry and placing it, breast side up, on a cutting board. With a large, sharp knife, cut the flap of skin between the thighs and the body. Holding one leg in each hand, bend the legs backward, lifting the chicken slightly off of the cutting board, until you hear the bones pop out of the ball-and-socket joint.

Remove the whole leg from the body by cutting along the backbone and up to the ball-and-socket joint. Hold the chicken firmly against the cutting board with one hand and pull the leg away.

Depending on how you intend to cook the chicken, you can leave the leg whole or separate the thigh and drumstick by locating and cutting through the joint that connects them. Look for a thin line of fat running over the joint, make the cut just slightly to the side and you will slice easily through the cartilage.

With the chicken still on its back, remove the wings by pulling them straight out from the body and cutting through the joint where the wings join the breast. The wings can be saved to prepare a broth, or wrapped and frozen for up to three months. When you have enough of them, you can deep fry them, or roast them in the oven, basting with barbecue sauce.

You are now left with the chicken breast attached to the rib cage and backbone. To prepare chicken breast pieces on the bone, make cuts along both sides of the backbone. You now have what is referred to as a whole chicken breast. Save the backbone for a rich, savory broth. To divide the breast into portions or halves, turn the chicken breast so it is skin side down and cut along one side of the breast bone, cutting through the bones, flesh and skin.

The breast is the most expensive part of the bird. Once you try your hand at boning the breast pieces yourself, you'll never see the value of the "short cut" again.

The whole process takes just a few minutes and begins with placing the breast, skin side down, on a cutting board. Rotate the breast so that the thickest part is closest to you. With the point of a chef or boning knife, cut through the white cartilage surrounding the keel bone, which looks like a "V." Pick up the breast and bend it back, popping the keel bone free of the cartilage.

Separate the meat from the bone by running your fingers around both sides of the bone, removing it from the bone and the cartilage. On one side of the breast, insert the knife tip under the rib bone and cut the meat from the rib cage. Repeat on the other side. Scrape the flesh from the wishbone to expose it, then cut the bone from the meat. Pull or trim any remaining tendons.

Removing the tasty dark meat from the thighs is even easier. The thigh, when separated from the drumstick, will have a joint on either side. Place the thigh, skin side down, on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice the meat along the bone, from joint to joint. Scrape the meat away from the bone, then cut any remaining meat from the joints.

Even if you forgo buying the whole chicken, you can buy the breasts, legs, thighs and drumsticks with the bone in, and still save considerably. For recipes that do not call for the boned version, try cooking the chicken part with the bones and notice how much more moist and tender the meat is, not to mention the heightened flavor.

If you prefer to serve the dish without bones, they are very easy to remove after cooking.

Knowing how to cut and bone a chicken is a skill that, in time, will prove invaluable.

This article is from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.


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