So I bought a whole chicken. A Foster Farms Young Chicken to be exact. Mine weighed 4 pounds, and cost about $3. $3 for an entire chicken!
I figured they are cheaper because people are too lazy to cut up a chicken themselves (how hard could it be?), they would rather have the nice chicken breasts in plastic wrap ready from fridge to pan. I also figured that my whole chicken would be processed less than other chicken pieces, and wouldn’t have touched as much equipment that a million other chicken parts have touched. Not to mention that $3 is a pretty good price to get 2 chicken breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 2 little wings (an appetizer!)
The panic didn’t start to set in until I had the chicken on my cutting board, knife in hand, and realized I had no idea how to quarter a chicken.
Good old Martha Stewart came through for me – my trusty MS Cooking School cook book had step by step instructions and pictures for this daunting task. While my chicken pieces didn’t turn out as picture perfect as hers, I ended up with a roughly quartered chicken in about 20 minutes.
So here it is :
Terrah’s Guide to
Martha Says: Remove the legs by pulling the leg away from the body and slicing the skin between breast and thigh. Pull the leg outwards until it the thigh bone pops out of its socket, then trim around the socket. Repeat with the other leg.
Terrah Says: What? We’re already starting? Take a deep breath. Line your counter under the cutting board with plastic wrap, because it might get messy. Next look inside the cavity of your chicken – there may be some surprises in there. I found a liver, some other brownish organ, and what I think was a neck. I threw them out, but if you’re like my grandma you can make things with them and tell everyone they are the best part of the bird.
Martha recommends using a knife, but if you have some dishwasher safe kitchen sissors I would get them out now. They come in really handy when cutting around chicken bones, especially in the thigh and the wings.
Ok, we’re ready to start. Grab one of the legs and pull it away from the chicken. Cut just the skin on the inside of the joint so you can see what’s going on in there (like in step 1.). Over extend the joint until you either hear a little ‘pop’ or see the thigh bone poking through the meat on the inside of the joint (like in step 2.). This means that the thigh bone is disconnected from the rest of the bird. Cut off the thigh by cutting as close to the spine/ribcage as you can (This is Step 3.), leaving as much meat attached to the thigh bone as possible. You can always trim it later if you take too much skin/connective tissue, but leaving meat stuck to the rest of the bird is just wasted. Repeat with the other leg.
You will/should end up with two pieces that look like this:
And you can cut them into a Thigh and a Drumstick if you like, by turning it skin-side down and cutting along the fat line that is roughly in the middle (Like in 4.)
Ok, Next Step:
Martha Says: Lay the breast on its side, and pull the wing until the joint is exposed. Cut between the joint and breast to remove the wing.
Terrah Says: Try not to cut yourself here. Since the chicken is on its side, the wing you are cutting off is up in the air. ‘Finding the Joint’ is a little bit tricky this way, so I suggest holding the chicken up by it’s wing and trying to jab your knife in the chickens armpit. Just try not to take any breast meat off while you’re doing this.
Once you have both of the wings off, give them to your husband and tell him to turn them into a hot wing appetizer to reward all your hard work.
Martha Says: Separate the breast from the back by lifting up the breast and slice between the rib cage on both sides. Cut down between those bones and separate the two sections. Split the breast in half by placing it skin side down, splitting the wishbone in half with the heel of your knife, then slit closely along the breastbone. Crack it open with your hands and then cut it with your knife.
Terrah Says: This is the hardest part, and where Martha gave the littlest amount of detail. I’m pretty sure I read that, went over to my chicken, stared at it, and went back to read it again. I did that two more times before I just went for it. At this point, you basically have two breasts sitting on a bunch of chicken bones. Don’t worry about hurting any other part of the chicken, just try to get the meat off without wrecking it too much.
The first thing I suggest doing is standing the chicken on its head and cutting it right in half so that the breast is separated from the rest of the bones. The wishbone she talks about is located between the breasts at the head end of the chicken. The breastbone is triangular in cross section, with the flat part of the triangle facing inside the chicken. Place the chicken skin side up so you are looking at the triangle-tip of the breast bone. Carefully slide your knife along the breast bone on each side. From here you should basically be able to pull (rip) any other bones/connective tissue from the coveted breast meat. Trim off any fat that you don’t want. (I believe that covers steps 5 and 6 above, though the drawings are pretty useless.)
And that’s it! Your whole chicken should now resemble chicken parts you’ve seen in the grocery store, to the tune of 2 chicken legs ( = 2 chicken thighs 2 chicken drums), 2 chicken breasts and 2 chicken wings. If you are cutting up more than one chicken, you might consider saving the bones (and even the neck!) to make some chicken broth.