Photos by Donald L. Mark
There was a time when every home cook knew how to break down whole poultry into parts, because they didn't have a choice. Then we learned to pay exorbitant amounts of money for other people to do it for us. Well that's just silly. It only takes a small amount of instruction and one chicken to learn how to break down poultry, and you get to eat the chicken because YOU CAN'T FAIL.
Whole chickens are usually less expensive than their parts. The day I bought this one it was 99 cents per pound, wings were $1.29 per pound, legs and thighs were $2.39, and boneless skinless breasts were $3.29. If I had purchased just the two breast halves I would have spent about six dollars, but instead I bought the whole chicken for $4.27. You can get a quart of good chicken stock and four entrée portions from one chicken. That's about a dollar a serving plus a few cents for chicken stock.
Okay, so what do you need to break down a chicken? A cutting board, a knife, a plate for the parts, and some paper towels. I use a boning knife because I happen to have one, but any sharp knife you're comfortable with will work.
Start by rinsing the chicken in cold tap water, cleaning out the inner cavity where you'll find the neck, gizzard, liver, and heart, and patting it dry with paper towels. Save everything except the liver for chicken stock. Use the liver for paté, a quick snack, or pet food.
Lay the chicken on its back on the cutting board. Pull the leg and thigh away from the body and make an incision in the skin to give yourself room to work.
Feel around to locate the joint between the hip and the thigh, then snap the thigh downward to pop it out.
Using the tip of your knife, remove the leg quarter from the body.
Now, feel along the breast centerline with your fingers and locate the breast bone. Using the tip of your knife, make an incision along one side, keeping the tip of the blade against the bone and cartilage.
Carefully scrape the tip of your knife along the rib cage while pulling outward on the meat to separate the breast from the bones.
Cut along the wishbone, then pull the breast away from the rib cage, scraping the meat away from the rib cage as necessary, then cut it free.
If you wish, remove the wing by first dislocating the joint, then cutting through the cartilage. Note how I've curled my fingers to keep them away from the knife. I want to cut the bird, not myself!
Repeat these steps on the other side, and you're done. It's just that easy, and since all poultry are constructed the same, the instructions work just as well on duck, goose, turkey, or any other edible poultry. Makes you wonder why you paid so much more for those parts than you did for the whole bird.