Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The deepest cut

I swear I don't like the new Blogger interface...but maybe I'm just being old and crotchety. Nah...couldn't be me.

Once when we were at the Farmer's Market and I was buying a chicken from Schacht Farm, I asked Mandy about the chicken parts they offered, and she confided in me that many people don't know how to cut up a whole chicken.  I found that hard to believe, but then again, my mom had never taught me how to cut up a chicken either.

In fact, you know who taught me how to cut up a chicken?  Alton Brown. Yup, thanks to the Fry Hard II: The Chicken episode (Season 4; episode 45) of Good Eats and the excellent dino-cam, I am now some sort of chicken-cutting expert (by "expert" I mean I've not lost a finger or sent myself to the hospital for stitches yet).

So, the BEST way I can think of for you to learn how to cut up chicken is to get your hands on that Good Eats episode and watch it. If you can't, then the second best way is to read that episode chapter in Brown's book "Good Eats: The Early Years".

The third best way is to read this post.

If you're still reading, then I'll assume you either really like me, or had to settle for third best.  Either way, I guess I have some 'splaining to do.

We bought a chicken from our local health-food co-op because we ate all of our last batch and our next batch won't be ready for butchering until late November.  This was on sale, and since the date was fine, hubby got it.
Here it lies, all rinsed and ready for a cutting lesson.  I was sorely disappointed that they don't include innards. I do love me some fried heart and gizzard.
What I do first is cut off the wings. You can either cut off the tip, middle, than drummette or cut off all three together and then separate them.  I used to love to eat the tips, but now save them for making stock.  The key is easily cutting off the parts is to learn some anatomy and know where the ball-joints are.  Cutting through those is a lot easier than trying to cut through bone.

That leads me to another point (no pun intended) - the best knife is a sharpened knife.  Alton Brown also has a Good Eats episode on sharpening/honing one's knives.  You must watch it.  As he, and other chefs have, said: dull knives make accidents.

So here I am down to the drummette:
Next, I cut off the drumsticks from the carcass, and I also cut the meat off the drumsticks themselves because that's another chicken-cutting truism: bones make the best broth. My kids have never understood the allure of eating a drumstick anyway, but even if they did, I'd have to deprive them of these delicacies at home because broth is more important than the fleeting gastronomic happiness of my children.
Here are the drumstick bones in the bowl of the slow-cooker, along with the wing tips:
And here are the good pieces of meat in a container ready to be marinated before frying.  You may notice I didn't try to strip the wings of their bones. This is for several reasons: 1) I don't trust myself to do fine surgery with kitchen knives on slippery meat, and 2) the amount of time it'd take for me to de-bone these pieces would be much better spent on wasting away on Facebook or felting belly button lint.
Next, I tackle the breasts: feel for the breastbone and cut slowly and carefully along one side of it using small strokes. Keep peeling back the meat as you cut.
Repeat on the other side of the breast.  Because I want "finger"-sized pieces for frying, I cut up the breast into several smaller pieces.
The only remaining chunks of meat are the thighs.  Thighs are much hardr to cut off since it's not as easy to find their joints.  But, feel around for it; it's worth the time to find it to cut through.
Here's a different view of the joint:
Now, this...this is the part we all fight over. No, not really; I try to sneak off with it when Scott's done frying the chicken.  ;)  This is what Alton calls the "oyster" of the chicken.  Best dang little piece of dark meat on the bird.
Another view of the "oyster":
By now, the bird is pretty much picked:
So I toss the carcass into the slow-cooker bowl with the other bones:
This is hubby's favorite seasoning, so I put it into the bowl and fill it with enough water to cover most of the carcass:
I use the same seasoning on the pieces of meat to be fried:
Then I add buttermilk into the pan of meat:
I mix it up so everything will be coated and seasoned and let it sit for a few hours.  Before frying, hubby dredges the pieces in flour.
...and was rewarded by hubby's stellar fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, and green beans:
As for the broth, after cooking for many hours in the slow-cooker, we strained out the bones, picking off the last of the meat and saving it, and then used the broth to make chicken congee.  Nothing gets wasted.

Unfortunately, the chicken was not nearly as flavorful as the ones we butcher ourselves. We've not found any chickens for sale that are as tasty as our own.  But, fried chicken is fried chicken, and still pretty darned yummy!

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." ~ Douglas Adams