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The Butcher

Whole Chicken--A Versatile Bargain

April 25, 1985|MERLE ELLIS

"Whole fryers--69 cents per pound," the ad read in a newspaper food section; right below that: "chicken scaloppini--$3.99 per pound." In my opinion it is mind boggling what some people are willing to pay to avoid cutting up a chicken.

"Chicken scaloppini" is just a fancy term for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. There are others: "chicken escallops," "chicken cutlets," "chicken supreme," and they all are high in price compared to the whole chicken. At a price difference of 69 cents versus $3.99 a pound, you would be money ahead even if you cut up your own chickens, boned out the breasts and threw everything else away. In my opinion the $3.30 a pound difference is a high price to pay for convenience.

An Easy Task

I never have understood why people are so willing to pay so much to have someone else do something for them that is so easy. Cutting up one of today's tender chickens is easy. Today's chickens are young, with sufficient space between the joints to slide in even a dull blade simply and smoothly.

In cutting up a chicken, I usually start with a wing. Simply wiggle it around a bit to see where it seems to be attached to the carcass, then slip a knife through the space between the joint and body and remove it.

Next, wiggle the leg to find the joint where the thigh is attached to the back. Cut down to and through that joint to lift off a leg. To separate the leg from the thigh, first push back the skin of the thigh with your finger. Every chicken has marked the joint between the leg and thigh with a line of fat. Push back the skin, find the line of fat that marks the joint and cut through the joint.

Then Do It Again

Repeat the procedure on the other side of the chicken. First remove the wing, then the leg. After a couple of chickens, you will, I'm sure, have that part of the procedure down pat. Separating the back from the breast is what often causes people some problems. It needn't.

There are two parts to a chicken's back, the upper back where the ribs are attached and the lower back below the rib cage. It's easiest to detach the two sections separately. First, the lower back portion. Holding the breast, with the back of the bird on the cutting board; cut down through the loose skin to the center of the back. Place the knife down and bend the two portions of the back to separate the vertebrae. Cut through the loose skin to remove the lower back portion.

Now look on the inside of the bird. Where the ribs from the back join the ribs from the breast, you will see a little dot of white cartilage at each juncture. Starting at the spot where the wing was removed, and using the tip of a knife, cut up through those little dots of cartilage to separate the upper back from the breast. This done, again put down the knife, bend back the back and give it a tug to separate it from the breast. That's it. You have cut up a chicken.

The Boning Procedure

Now, to boning the breast. Most instructions for boning chicken breasts describe a procedure for taking the meat off the bone. I find it easier and much faster to take the bone out of the meat. First, cut through the cartilage at the broad, spoon-shaped end of the breast bone. Put aside the knife and hold the breast in one hand wth your fingers against the ridge of the breast bone on the underside; push down with the other hand to pop-up the breast bone. Run your fingers along both sides of the bone to loosen it, then pull it out.

What remains are the two sides of the rib cage, with a long narrow bone extending back from each side, and the wishbone. Run the blade of the knife under one of those long bones to loosen it. Then, using that bone as a handle, cut back against the bone to loosen and remove one side of the rib cage. Do the same on the other side. Cut around and remove the wishbone--you can almost pull that out with your fingers.

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