This is a post from my archives. It cracks me up how squeamish I was now that I have been living the “Whole Foods” lifestyle for over two and half years. I was so paranoid about germs! I feel that this post might be encouraging to any of you who are still nervous about preparing whole chicken. If I can go from THIS to cooking up two of these babies a week, I think anyone can do it!
During my daughter’s nap today I faced my first challenge in my quest to become a farmer: cutting up a whole chicken. I know it doesn’t sound like much compared to actually butchering a live chicken, but it is a start. I am ashamed to say that I started with directions by Martha Stewart from a free publication I keep getting in the mail (despite being on a no-junk mail list). Directions are also available online at: http://www.marthastewart.com/article/cutting-up-a-whole-chicken. Please tell me someone else is as geeky as I am. I am one of those people who read the directions to *everything* from the crock pot to the sewing machine. Anyhow…
Holding the cleaver in my right hand I stared down my freshly thawed foe… Then I put on another set of laytex gloves over the previous pair, put down another bamboo cutting board next to the first, arranged ziploc bags on my left for the cut-up bits and plastic grocery bags for waste on my right. Finally feeling adequately prepared, I picked up a small, sharp knife and began to make my first cut – according to the directions – across the backbone. But then I stopped. For some reason I thought that I was smarter than Martha, so I decided to instead skin the chicken first, slicing up underneath the fat and pulling off long sticky layers of skin and fat and gelatinous ooze. (My grocery store fails to carry whole organic chicken and I can’t find a farmer who supplies such within 60 miles of here so I shudder to think of what sort of chemical residues hide amongst that fat.) Nevertheless, I managed to successfully skin the little bugger pretty quickly and began to get cocky. (Ha, ha – punny!)
Next, instead of breaking off the backbone as instructed, I popped the little wings out of their sockets and chopped through tendons and more goo. With a jagged (and almost feral looking) cut I rendered the wings free from the body. My bravado began to wane quickly. The legs I attacked with much less gusto yet they still look like they were ripped from the poor creature by some horrible beast. Defeatedly I put the thigh/leg combos in my zippy along with the wings. I plan on breading them with Ritz and wheat germ and baking them for dinner tonight. (An actually very tasty variation of a coating suggested by the Sneaky Chef.)
At this point I decided that returning to the original directions would be pointless … and messy. (Honestly, I didn’t want to lysol down my little homemade herbal/recipe book again. It had already suffered a perilous encounter with honey during the holiday season and I couldn’t bear to chance another disaster.) So I cracked the breast and began gently pealing the meat from the ribs. I realize that Martha recommended using several different cutting implements for this process but I relied on my one trusty sharp knife for the entire ordeal. Still not sure if that was a great idea. I managed alright until I got to the edge where the breasts connect to the back. I have no idea where the actual cut should end, but being as frugal as I am I went as far as I could to get as much meat as possible. Needless to say the breast pieces were not textbook pretty when I was finished. I therefore cut them into little “tenders” pieces and tossed them into the second zippy feeling somewhat redeemed since my husband would not immediately note my grievous butchering errors.
I certainly wasn’t about to waste the liver, gizzards, and various meaty bits clinging to the rest of the bones so, after a second round of lysol and scrubbing soap, I tossed the remainder of the chicken into the crock pot to make chicken stock. After doing so, and cleaning down the rest of the kitchen, I looked up an actual recipe. To my chagrin I still have not unpacked my cooking spices and have no vegetables on hand to speak of that would make adequate stock. :( Oh, well. Chicken, salt and water should be at least a for soup – right? (UPDATE: Check out Kitchen Stewardship’s easy directions for creating stock.)
The next challenge will be starting with a live chicken, but that is going to be awhile. Other lessons will have to come first, like how to build a chicken coop and order chicks online. My research has given me several fabulous resources, though… Check them out:
- How to Butcher a Chicken .com (recommended by Mother Earth News)
- Stromberg’s Hatchery (recommended by my Backyard Barnyard book)
- Smith Poultry Supply (also recommended by my Backyard Barnyard book)
UPDATE: I went from this (above) to preparing a whole chicken for dinner every Sunday, throwing the bones in the crockpot for bone broth overnight and making some sort of chicken broth based soup for dinner every Monday. This week I was lucky enough to get to test one of Katie Kimball’s newest recipes for homemade Chicken Pot Pie using both homemade broth and leftover chicken bits … and it was *phenomenal*! It is part of her new (yet-to-be-released) cookbook called “Better Than a Box.” Stay tuned by subscribing!
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