Cut Up Your Own Whole Chicken
As a Chef, you either like butchery or you could handle letting others perform the task. I find it empowering. As a culinarian, the end game is the control of your food, considering and caring about the way it looks, the textures the dish offers, and the aromas. With that being said, this article will outline what is needed to successfully butcher your own whole chicken.
In school, every time our Chef asked for a volunteer during a demonstration my hand was the first up, every time. Most students thought butchery was gross. I looked at it as an opportunity, growth, and another skill to learn along the way. With the love of food, it comes in many forms, and a big thank you to our butchers of the world.
Let's have some quick fun. Below you'll find a video with Master Chef Martin Yan cutting up a Whole Chicken in 18 SECONDS. Wow...
When it comes to the world, the chicken breast is the most popular cut of chicken. A chicken breast can be cooked with confidence if you know a few rules and steps. Here is a video I did on cooking chicken breast below
Quick Chicken Cooking Tips:
Pat the skin dry - every time, to gain golden brown and delicious skin and color
Adding butter helps protect the chicken from drying out, both on skin and under the skin
Cook at either a high temperature or low temperature. In between is the way chicken gets overcooked often. When proteins like chicken cook for longer times the meat becomes stringy. If you cook the chicken fast this can be avoided. Think about fried chicken, cooked quickly, and super moist. Visit our Fried Chicken Post
NEVER take the chicken out of the refrigerator and try to cook it asap. The chicken needs time to take some of the chill off. If you cook cold chicken the middle will be raw, or the middle will be perfect and the rest of the chicken will be overcooked. Run under cool water, not hot water, or set on your counter awhile.
STEP BY STEP HOW TO CUT UP A WHOLE CHICKEN
CHICKEN BUTCHERY 101
STEP 1 - First Cuts
There are a few schools of thought here when it comes to chicken butchery. Some people like to start at the breast. For me, I still start the way I was taught in culinary school. With the first cut being between the leg and the breast.
When the time calls for a nice chicken presentation you will want to preserve the chicken skin.
This means where you make the cuts matters.
With the first cut, make the cut closers to the leg then the breast. In the photo above, see how much skin is between the leg and breast? If you cut close to the body/breast, you just cut off all the presentation skin for the breast. Make the first cut closer to the leg.
For presentation, you'll want the skin to drape over the end of the chicken breast. Don't get upset while learning how to do this. Remember, there is only so much skin to work with, so perfection is almost impossible for most cooks. If you follow these directions to come below, you'll be on your way to being very good at this culinary technique.
The next step is to dislocate the hip bone by moving the legs back under the chicken spine. To do this, place your fingers under the location you can see in the photo below. While holding the chicken legs and thighs tightly, move the chicken legs downward under the chicken. Think of the legs as begin on a hinge, just extend the range of motion of the hinge and the hip bone will dislocate. Very easy to do.
Afterward, the whole chicken will stand upright making it easier to work with and making it safer to make the remaining cuts.
The photo below: Chicken hip bone has been dislocated - visual of where the chicken legs need to be extended to for completion
STEP 2: A Key To Success - Most Overlooked Step
Often referred to as the chicken wishbone. The technical name is Furcula.
TIP: When this is not removed the chicken breast removal becomes harder. You can end up with uneven cuts. The wishbone gets in the way of the knife cutting through the breast.
At this point, your chicken should look like this, legs laying flat
SKILL: Using your fingers, feel for the wishbone on the front side of the chicken. The location is in the very front of the chicken. Using a small knife make a cut on both sides of the wishbone and remove by squeezing each bone with your fingers one at a time.
One wishbone, two bones, both the left and right side needs to be removed. This is not a manitory.
Below I have two videos I've done covering the butchery of a whole chicken. One video I remove the wishbone, the other I did not.
STEP 3: Removing the Chicken Breast & Tenderloin
With butchery, the idea is to remove as much meat as possible. The combination of the use of a knife and your fingers is the key. Start by feeling for the chicken sternum location. As shown in the photo below
Pay Attention: Nature offers us natural lines all over the animal as to where to make the cuts. Valuable lesson. More on that to come.
Make the cut either on the left side or right side of the chicken sternum. I started on the left side. When making the cut you want to angle the knife back towards the rib bones, not toward the chicken breast meat.
Make one long cut. This cut will help give you a cleaner presentation. Once the first cut is complete you can make a number of smaller cuts. But wouldn't suggest it on the first cut.
Once you've made a cut along the chicken sternum keeping the knife cut close to the rib cage. Cut all the way down in one line opening up the chicken. Using your fingers, get in there and get your hand on the chicken tenderloin. Often you can just pull it off the chicken breast. The chicken tenderloin lives right underneath the chicken breast. The chicken tenderloin is a non-locomotive muscle, meaning it doesn't move. Making it a very "tender" piece on the chicken.
From here there's one last important cut to make, removing the breast. You need a cut between the neckbone/collarbone. The location is right next to where the "wishbone / Furcula". was located. You can do two things with this cut. You can just remove the breast, leaving the wing attached to the carcass, or cut between the collarbone and leave it attached to the chicken breast. In Europe, they often leave the wing attached then clean up the chicken wing bone for presentation, it's called an Airline Chicken Breast.
If you like, you can make this cut before you begin removing the chicken breast. Stand the chicken upright and feel with your fingers for the joint located between the wings and the chicken carcass and make a small cut dislocating the joint.
Finish cutting the chicken breast off the carcass by cutting through the collarbone.
STEP 4: Removing the Leg & Thigh
Have you ever heard the saying, " Let the knife do the work"? Well, the time has arrived to put it into action.
Using the weight of the chicken makes the removal easier and safer.
Start by picking up the chicken by the leg
TIP: In the photo above, this is the moment the knife moves through the hip joint. The ball joint that connects the leg and thigh to the chicken carcass. Think of this as open a lock with a key. You'll move the knife and a few different directions then the knife will slide through.
Finish the removal by keeping the knife pointed back toward the chicken.
STEP 5: How To Separate the Leg & Thigh
Again with nature showing the way. The natural line between the leg and thigh tells the story. The key to this is the cutting angle. Make sure your knife is angled back towards the leg.
Move the knife through the leg and thigh in move movement, one cut.
Congratulations on taking the time to learn this valuable skill that can save you a ton of money annually. Here's a post I did on the cost analysis on each piece of chicken. Which one do you think has the highest cost markup?