Below are step-by-step instructions to joint a chicken. But before you begin, these are the three most important tips given to me when I first started breaking down birds.
- Be comfortable. If you are reaching across the bird to cut something and your hand is at a weird angle, turn the bird instead of straining your wrist.
- Follow the fat line. Lines of fat are the road markers of where the pieces want to come apart naturally. Follow those lines and you will be working with the ingredient as opposed to dulling your knife cutting through a bone instead of around it.
- 90% of butchery is fingers. Before you cut, feel the animal with your fingers. Do you feel where the joint is? Cut there. Use your fingers to apply gentle downward pressure as you pull the breast away from the bone. The breast will slide off and you won’t cut through those sharp ribs.
Set the chicken, breast side up on a stable cutting board. With a sharp knife, preferably a boning knife or very sharp paring knife, cut through the skin that connects the drumstick to the body. Most animals are built to be taken apart. There is only a thin layer of skin and fascia that connects the two joints. The fascia will tear away with the probe of a finger. Cut the other side as well.
With your palm on what would be the chicken’s knee, your middle finger on what would be the chicken’s butt press the leg away from the body until you feel the ball joint that is near your middle finger pop. It sounds gruesome, but it happens quite quickly and it will never think of anything else when in prone frog pose in yoga class again. Do it again to the other leg.
With the tip of the knife, cut around the oyster meat, what would be the chicken’s love handle if chickens were built like us. And then cut between the ball and the socket of the joint you just popped. Like I said, chickens want to come apart. You shouldn’t have to dull your knife to make it so.
Similarly, the joint between the drumstick and thigh is marked by a fat line giving you a road map to separate the two. Using the tip of your knife, cut through that line to separate the leg.
To remove the breasts, flip the chicken back over to its original position. The breastbone is the dividing line between. Cut just to one side of the breastbone and cut straight down until you reach the ribs, using your fingers to pull the breast meat away as you go. Continue cutting along the ribs until completely removed. Then go on to the other side. (I almost always start on the left side, but there’s no reason why.)
All you’ll have left on your cutting board is a chicken carcass with scary bat wings. Cut them off by cutting through the ball and socket joint in what would be the chicken’s armpit if it had arms instead of wings. Then cut off the little wing tips.
And you’re done. Two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings and a body.
Wrap the pieces that you aren’t going to use in two layers of plastic wrap and then freeze for another dinner. I usually keep all the chicken parts in a plastic bag to keep a stray drumstick from getting lost in the back of the freezer.
And make stock with the bones. It tastes better than store-bought, is cheaper and makes use of the entire animal. You can freeze the bones too and let the quantity build up and then make one big batch of stock. Better yet, buy 3 whole chickens, joint them in succession gaining confidence each time and then make a big batch of stock and have enough parts in the freezer to feed you and yours for a good while.