During our daughter’s recent visit we made one of her favorite meals going back to when she was a toddler: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cream gravy, green beans, and homemade biscuits. Carol was pleased with the menu, but she also had a special request. She loves the wishbone and the ritual of making a wish. The problem is that these days chicken is mostly sold already cut up, and the breast is simply split down the middle so that the wishbone is destroyed. For fried chicken, I almost always buy a whole chicken and cut it up. I think that it tastes fresher and crispier. (although I know that is just my food snobbery showing through) That way, the wishbone is preserved.
Carol asked the friendly and helpful butcher at her local grocery store if he could cut up a chicken so that she could save the wishbone. He allowed that he didn’t know how to do that. Carol wanted me to make a video to show him the process. That seemed a little extreme, but I agreed to let her take some still shots of the process to show her butcher the next time she visited his shop.
During our “shoot”, Carol suggested that I should include the demonstration in my blog. My initial reactions was, “What!!!???” Then it occurred to me that if a butcher at a full-service shop doesn’t know how to do it, there are probably a lot of other folks who also don’t know how to do it. Breaking down a chicken is not a lost art like writing in Sanskrit. On the other hand, it is a fading kitchen skill that is disappearing because of plastic wrap and mass marketing. So here is my version of cutting up a chicken to preserve the wishbone. ALERT!! There are some very graphic images in the demonstration. If you are squeamish, my advice is to forego the rest of the blog and just buy chicken in shrink-wrapped packages. The bonus for reading on is that you will wind up with nine pieces of chicken while still having the back for chicken soup.
HOW TO CUT UP A CHICKEN TO PRESERVE THE WISHBONE
- Remove the chicken from the wrapping. There is disagreement about whether you should rinse the chicken or not. Do whatever you feel more comfortable about. Just make sure that you have removed the neck and and organ parts from the body cavity. Place the chicken on a cutting board that can be easily and thoroughly cleaned afterwards.
- Have available a sharp chef’s knife and poultry shears. A paring knife and/or boning knife are also useful.
- First cut: With chef’s knife, make a cut in the crease between one of the thighs and the body of the chicken. Cut down smoothly as you pull the leg away from the body. You will cut down to the bone and expose the joint between the body and thigh. Pull the thigh down and cut through the joint, continuing until the thigh has separated from the body.
- Locate the joint between the thigh and drumstick on the separated leg. With your index finger you will feel a slight indentation between the thigh and drumstick. That indicates the joint inside. With the chef’s knife, cut through the joint until you have separated the thigh and drumstick.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other leg.
- Separate one of the wings by using the chef’s knife to cut into the breast about 1 inch away from the joint between the wing and breast. Cut through the joint, and the wing should separate from the rest of the chicken. Cut off the wing tip at the joint.
- Repeat step 6 on the other wing.
- To separate the breast from the back, use the chef’s knife or poultry shears to cut horizontally between the openings made by removing the wings and the opening at the tail. Cut on both sides, and then spread the two pieces apart and cut any bones or skin that are holding the two halves together. Set aside the back to make chicken stock and/or chicken soup. The meat on the back will be ample for a rich chicken soup.
- You will now have the whole chicken breast on the cutting board. In the next steps you will cut it into three pieces, one with the intact wishbone.
- Run your index finger up and down the center of the chicken breast. You should feel the keel bone. As your finger moves in the direction of where the neck was, you will feel the keel bone disappear and only soft tissue will remain. That spot is where you want to make a horizontal cut. On a younger, smaller bird, you will be able to cut completely through the breast with your chef’s knife. With a larger bird, you will need to use your poultry shears. Cut through completely and you will have a U-shaped piece with the wishbone intact. Set aside.
- Turn the remaining piece of the breast over. Slice through the thin membrane overlying the keel bone and with your fingers or a boning knife, scrape the breast meat free of the keel bone on both sides until you reach the level where the keel bone is joined to the overlying skin. Cut the keel bone away from the skin, and you will have two equal-sized portions of breast meat. Divide them with the chef’s knife along the seam made by the removed keel bone.
- With your fingers or a paring knife or boning knife, remove any bones remaining on the two equal-sized portions of breast meat.
- You will now have 9 pieces of chicken for frying: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 3 pieces of breast meat. In addition, you will have the back for stock or soup along with the liver, heart, gizzard, and neck to use as you wish.
P.S.: A special thanks to Carol for suggesting this topic.