Going to Pieces

I’ve noticed a trend, of late, at the markets I frequent wherein it has been difficult to find cut-up whole chicken. All I can see are packages of breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, most of which are boned and skinned. That, in itself, is unfortunate, but a dearth of dismembered poultry should not be cause for rending of garments, shearing of hair, and/or cursing unto the heavens like Lear upon the heath. It is perfectly easy to cut up a chicken: all that is required is a good, sharp knife, a reputable pair of poultry shears or a cleaver, and “the courage of your convictions.” It’s as economic as it is practical: if chicken is on sale, you can buy a whole bird for under $9, while finding the pieces individually is more likely to cost you upwards of $14 at a reputable vendor. And everything you don’t use can be saved, should you choose to do so.

Where to cut?

Where to cut?

Prepare your mise en place with the aforementioned instruments of cutting (for the knife, I prefer a 6″ chef’s knife, perfectly sharp, but if you intend to explore beyond cutting poultry to boning it–not a sexual colloquialism–a boning knife is a worthwhile investment, a cutting board (preferably one with a well,) poultry shears or a cleaver (and unless you’re a serial killer or buy your meat en masse, there’s no need to invest in a cleaver,) and paper towels for blotting and drying. Remove your bird from its packaging and dry it well with paper towels. Place it breast side up on your cutting board and pick up a drumstick.

Dangle it the way Cary Grant dangled Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

Dangle it the way Cary Grant dangled Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

Letting gravity be your friend, but not defying it, use your knife to cut around the thigh joint of the bird’s torso. In some cases, this will separate the joint in the moment; otherwise, you will have to use your shears to cut the leg from the body. Do the same with the other leg. This is a good time to wash and dry your hands–it’s important to get a good grip (again, in this connotation, NOT a sexual inference.)

Legless, but not drunk

Legless, but not drunk

Now, you must split the breasts (sorry, still not sexy.) Run your knife down the breastbone, slicing as close to the bone as your competency allows. The torso will split a little on its own at this point, looking a little like a Chest Hugger from the Alien franchise. Do not let this intimidate you! Use your shears to split the ribs from the backbone and pull the breasts from the remaining carcass. Save the spine and ribs for stock, as well as the neck.

Save the liver! Always save the liver!

Save the liver! Always save the liver! (Although, none of this is actually liver.)

If you like the offal, save that, too! Never forget that if you “cut the dickens out of [your] finger,” liver acts as a coagulant.

They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

Now you have your bird in quarters, and you can have your way with her, as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses. A quartered chicken works very well for braising or fricaseeing. (I must admit that “fricassee” has always sounded like a sex act to me, but it’s not, really.) You can certainly separate the wings and drumsticks if you plan to fry the chicken, or if you simply want to save those parts for stock. I think that a pan roasted chicken is best done in quarters, though, and I’ve had great success with it.

Ready to cook!

Ready to cook!

So, there’s really no need to be chicken about cutting up a chicken: just give in to the Hannibal Lecter and Sweeney Todd that resides in us all, grab a knife and a cleaver or shears, and cut and chop away! and remember, this works for any bird, be it turkey, goose, duck, chicken, or quail. But I will judge you if you’re so sadistic as to draw and quarter a quail. What are you, Norman Bates? All serial killers aside, with or without Chianti and fava beans, it’s just the way to cook!

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About What would Julia do?

Being timid and meek like Dorothy Gale, I have surprised myself by starting this blog. But a few people have suggested I do so, so there it is. I love to eat and I love to drink, so although this blog could be about almost anything I choose to type, there's likely to be a lot about what you put in your mouth. Why the title? Anyone who knows me knows my reverence for Julia Child. I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that our country's interest in the culinary arts would be all but non-existent but for Her. I would not attempt to count the number of people who have cited Her influence in their lives and careers. What Atticus Finch is to lawyers, Julia Child is to the cook, be s/he servantless or professional. Honesty demands me to say that it is not simply Her advocacy of GOOD FOOD that has immortalized her; She had the happy circumstance of coming into her own at a time when media was in her favour. We can all be thankful for that. I would name Julia Child as the patron saint of second starts, but I'm a happy heretic. Julia's dogma goes beyond the kitchen: She has famously stated that "[y]ou've got to have the courage of your convictions..." Her statement applies as equally to any part of one's life as it does to flipping a potato gallette. I will conclude by noting I have my own personal trinity of Js--Julia, Judy Garland, and Joanna Rowling. Please refer back to that part about my being a happy heretic.
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2 Responses to Going to Pieces

  1. Tayreze says:

    You make it look so easy; I always find I don’t have the strength to cut through the bones.

    • You just need a good pair of poultry shears–they’re stronger than kitchen shears (which are really just separable scissors, for ease of cleaning) and often spring operated. Wüsthof makes an excellent pair.

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