Thursday, May 21, 2009

De-boning chicken pays off

One of the most useful skills for a cook is the ability to de-bone whole chickens. First, whole chicken costs one-third as much per pound as a boneless chicken breast does because the cook does the labor of breaking the chickens down instead of the store’s butcher. Second, when I do the work I create a classic French style chicken breast that has the lovely drumette bone attached to the boneless breast that makes an elegant presentation as an entrée. This is the money cut and we treat it as such by featuring it at one of our more important meals together during the week. Third, I also get a meal for two from the legs and thighs. Finally, I get another meal from the stock and bits of meat stripped from the wings and other bones as a chicken soup. For about $5 and a bit of knife skill put to good use for five minutes, I yield six meals! And these are rich and nutritious meals at that.

To de-bone a chicken, I start by removing the wish bone. This is accomplished by inserting the tip of my boning knife at the top of the wish bone and cutting downward towards the neck. Once exposed, I carefully excise the wishbone by running the knife edge along the curve of the bone and then separating the stem from the backbone. Once the wishbone is removed, I then remove the wings by holding the side of the bird up off my board by the wing tip, and slicing the drumette just below the first joint. I then hyper-extend the wing so that the joint separates taking the wing and wintip sections away leaving the end of the drumette bone exposed. After repeating the same procedure on the other breast, I then remove the wing tips from the wings and toss them into the roasting pan. Next, I cut away the skin between the thighs and breasts. Once that is done, the breasts are de-boned by running the boning knife downward from the back and through the drumette joint. The legs and thighs are removed as a unit by first dislocating the thigh joint and then turning the bird over and making a sweeping cut into the back along the bones making sure to capture the “oyster” meat just above the thigh joint. If I want to separate the drumsticks, I cut the joint just inside the line of fat to complete the breakdown. Now I have the stock pieces that include the carcass, neck, giblets (without the liver), and the wingtips; I have the breasts for an elegant entrée, the wings for a spicy appetizer, and the legs and thighs for a rustic week-night dinner; All of this for about $5. The whole job takes less than five minutes. If I want a mild stock I will make that right away with the raw bones. If I don’t have the time, or want a richer stock, I will roast the bones and put them into the freezer along with the pan drippings until I have the time to make the stock.

At our Spring Color class in April, I served boneless chicken breasts from pasture raised birds as the entrée that many of the members commented was the best chicken they had ever tasted. Those six birds served twelve of us as entrée from the breasts, dinner for three from three of the legs and thighs, two lunches of cold chicken, dinner in a chicken soup for two and four lunches more from the meat and stock. The only parts of the chicken that went to compost were the bones after stock making and the livers (I will make dog food from the livers next time).

Stacy and I hope you will cook with us at a class soon!

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

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