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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, Part 1: Cutting Up a Bird

by Panda

Crunchy fried goodness.
I have an almost unhealthy obsession with a few different dishes - macaroni and cheese, chili, and fried chicken.  While Mango and I love to try making all sorts of dishes, I keep coming back to these three, over and over.  Eating them is a hell of a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, but what I'm really obsessed with is getting them right.  I want them to taste as good as I think I can make them taste, and I want to be able to do that consistently.  While these dishes are relatively straight forward, the ingredients and techniques you use in their preparation can vary wildly, leading to all sorts of different results.

There is nothing like hot, crunchy fried chicken.  It makes my eyes roll up into the back of my head, and causes weird, gutteral noises to come out of me while I'm eating.  As soon as I get a hold of a piece, I turn into this half-Korean cave man and start tearing it apart, stuffing pieces into my mouth.  It's not a pretty sight.

So after many batches of fried chicken, I have settled on a process:

Day 1, part 1: Cut the chicken up.
Day 1, part 2: Brine the chicken.
Day 2, part 1: Coat the chicken and fry it up.
Day 2, part 2: Eat it.

Cutting Up a Chicken

If you don't feel like cutting up your own chicken, I'll forgive you.  It's easy enough to pick up a package of chicken that's already been cut up for you.  I think it's a pretty useful skill, though.  Sometimes whole chickens are on sale.  Sometimes you might find a really spectacular chicken that isn't cut up for you already.  Sometimes you're really stressed out, and, unlike cutting a person, cutting a chicken is legal.  Mostly, though, I think that a chicken has lots of great parts to it - thighs, legs, wings, breasts - and buying a whole chicken gives you an opportunity to have all of these.

Say hello to Mr. Chicken.
I like to use a nice sharp filet knife and a chef's knife (or a cleaver if you have one).  Mostly you'll need the filet knife - the chef's knife or cleaver is nice for when you want the breasts with the bones still attached.

Step 1. Take the bag out of its ass - the one with the neck, heart, liver, etc. in it.  I have forgotten to do this more times than I care to admit.

Step 2. Pull the thigh and leg away from the body and cut down into the skin in between.  After you do this, grab the body and literally dislocate the hip bone - you will hear it crunch.  It's OK, the chicken won't feel this.  It's dead.

Step 3. Cut down into the meat close to the body.  You should feel your knife come in contact with the hip joint.  You'll want to wiggle your knife into the hip joint and cut through.  Do the same thing on the other side.

Step 4. Remove the wish bone.  This can be a little tricky.  Feel around towards the front of the chicken (the side with the wings) and you should feel a bone in the breasts.  Scrape the meat over this bone with your filet knife (be careful) and the bone should become exposed.

Once the wishbone is mostly exposed, stick your finger in there to help work it out.

Ta-da.  Make a wish with it later.

Step 5. Remove the wings.  This is the same deal as it was with the thighs - dislocate the joint, then place your knife at the joint and cut in so that your knife goes down into the joint.

Step 6. Remove the breasts from the back of the chicken.  This is where you'll need your chef's knife or cleaver.  You'll be cutting down through the rib cage, towards the back of the chicken.

When your knife is almost all the way through, you'll get to two joints.  Just cut through these, and you'll free the back of the chicken from the breast.  Be patient if you can't get the joints at first - just work at it.  Once the breasts are freed from the back, use your chef's knife to cut through the breast bone so that the breasts are separated - just put your knife down, place a hand on top of the back of the knife while holding the handle, and put your weight down on it.  It should crunch and eventually go through.  If you're nervous about the knife skipping, place a kitchen towel between the knife and your hand.

Remove the breasts and separating them are really the only time you should be cutting through any bone.
Step 6a. For fried chicken, I like to cut the breasts in half width-wise - this will make two smaller pieces, about the same size as a thigh.  I like to do this because I feel that a whole breast is a bit much; chickens nowadays have been bred to have tig 'ole bitties.  Some chickens have not been bred this way (mostly the ones you'd find on a small local farm), so if they have smaller breasts then this step is unecessary.  Cutting it in half also gives you more surface area for crust, and crust is a good thing.

It's the same as separating the breasts - place your knife on the breast, place your hand on the back of the knife, and put your weight down on it.  It'll eventually cut through.

Step 7. Separate the leg from the thigh.  The easiest way I've found to do this is to squeeze the thigh and leg together like so, and then feel for for the place where it feels like there's an indentation - this is where the joint is.  Cut down into that.

Just keep cutting down through the joint.  Stop when you're through - don't cut down into your hand (duh).
Once you're through the joint, move your knife to between the leg and thigh with the blade pointing up, and cut up the rest of the way through to separate the leg and thigh.

This makes it easy to separate the leg and thigh.

Ta-da, a chicken cut up and ready for whatever you want to do with it.  By the way, the process for removing the leg quarters and wings is the same process you'd use for carving a roast chicken, so it's handy to know this stuff.

I'll cover making the brine in my next post.  Stay tuned!


  1. Hurry up and post the part about the cooking and eating...I've not got much to say about cut-up raw chicken. Except that you do an exceptional job of it.

    1. LOL, thank you. I'll be put the rest up tonight.