Like most folks, my family is always on the lookout for something new to do with chicken. Once the skin has been removed, fresh chicken is fairly low in fat and has the makings of delectable year-round eating.
What's more, the savvy shopper can often find it bargain-priced -- especially whole broiler-fryers. If you own a heavy French (or cook's) knife, a sharp boning knife and a pair of poultry shears or heavyweight kitchen scissors, you can learn your way around the simple art of cutting up a chicken.
Master that and you can craft some terrifically tasty dishes -- recipes you might have otherwise skipped for want of $5 or $6 per pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts -- all for a comparatively modest price.
I'll tell you how to cut up a whole broiler-fryer and save yourself anywhere from 20 cents to 75 cents per pound compared with cut-up prices. But let me explain why you'd even consider going to the bother.
Yes, you can make the case that such a modest savings isn't worth your precious kitchen time. Yet once you get the hang of it, you can do two, three or four birds in rapid succession. Master the skill and you can do a half-dozen in less than 15 minutes.
Do some quick math: If there's a 30 cents per pound difference and you're working with 4-pound chickens, cut apart five chickens and you've saved around $6. That's when the savings begin to add up.
Let's say you just want to do one broiler-fryer. Besides those knives and the shears, you'll need a clean cutting board. Some cooks also like to have a basin of salted water handy into which the cut pieces can be placed.
* Lay the whole chicken on the cutting surface, breast-side up.
* Lift one leg-thigh portion away from the body. Run the knife through the skin, cutting down toward the joint where it connects. As you do this, pull the leg-thigh toward you to find where the thigh bone (ball) connects into the rib (socket). You will need to simultaneously slice and force the blade slightly, enough to sever the connection. Complete the cutting and remove the leg-thigh portion to a platter or the salted water. Repeat the procedure on the other side.
* Now you're looking at the football-shaped body of the chicken. Use your fingers to pull and peel away whatever skin you can. Most of it should be fairly easy to remove. Leave the bird breast-up.
* Position the poultry shears at the larger opening of the chicken, placing the cutters parallel with the center of the bird. Essentially you will be cutting the bird in half, following the ridge where the breast-halves connect. You'll be cutting through cartilage and some bone. Work carefully and be prepared to use your muscles.
* Slowly cut through the breast bone until you've severed the two halves.
* Using your fingertips, stroke downward until the meat tapers to a negligible thickness and at that place use the shears to cut the meaty breasts from the bony ribs and backs.
* Use the heavy cook's knife to whack off the wings. Set them aside.
* You may place these in a sealable container and freeze until you have enough to use in a recipe, or let them join the neck and giblets (usually tucked into the bird's vent) and the remaining back and any other scraps to make a flavorful stock.
* Place one breast-half rib-side-down onto the cutting board. Run the tip of the boning knife between the meat and bone. Using even strokes, deftly shave the meat from the bone, peeling it away as you go. You'll need to jiggle the tip of the knife to sever the final connection between bone and meat. Repeat with remaining breast-half.
* Lift one of the leg-thigh portions and flex it at the joint until you determine where the two segments are connected. Place the blade of the knife at that point and whack it, cleaverlike, to create two pieces.
* You now have six edible portions of chicken: pairs of boneless, skinless breasts, legs and thighs. You also have bones, some fleshy scraps and the skin.
If you're doing several chickens, you can make up packages of each cut. Assuming you're freezing them, here's the easiest approach: Wrap each piece in a swatch of plastic wrap or individual sandwich bags. Arrange them on a cookie sheet that you'll then place in the freezer just until the meat is frozen solid. Transfer to resealable containers. Mark the containers with the contents.
Chicken legs, which have become fairly inexpensive, are great for cacciatores or baked with rice and various sauces. Thighs, which are meatier, have grown in price; I'm apt to poach or roast a few to add to sauces or casseroles.
But when you break out those premium-priced boneless, skinless breasts -- except you didn't pay that premium, did you? -- those few minutes of work in the kitchen will have paid off.
Pub Date: 8/28/96