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ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAP SAUCE

Sometimes you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat. On occasion you find that what you pulled out actually was more like a weasel or a marmot, but now and then it does turn out to be a rabbit, just as you’d hoped.

I’m preparing food for a cocktail party, which has to be all finger foods. I thought Asian chicken lettuce wraps would be good, never mind that I have never made them before. The filling part is easy enough – diced chicken, water chestnuts, peanuts, cilantro, scallions – but the dressing was another story. You can buy all kinds of bottled dressings and some of them taste okay, but it’s fun to mix your own. If you have a well-stocked pantry with Asian ingredients, it’s fast and easy.

Here is what I came up with. This started with a recipe for Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson, and took off from there.

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SAUCE FOR ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS

  • 2 small red Jalapenos, minced
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon nam pla
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 star anise

Combine all ingredients. Store in refrigerator. Remove star anise before using. Toss with diced chicken or shrimp for Asian lettuce wraps or as a salad dressing.

Notes:

Use chili flakes, Sriracha, cayenne, or other hot peppers in place of the Jalapenos.

Nam pla (fish sauce) is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. If necessary you can substitute soy sauce or tamari.

Black bean garlic sauce is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. Leave it out if you can’t find it.

Thai sweet chili sauce is available in Asian markets, supermarkets, and Trader Joe’s. It is a thick sweet-spicy sauce that has a couple of million uses.

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CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS

The first enchiladas I ever made were from the Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes. The recipe called for 2 cups of sour cream and 1 pound of shredded Cheddar cheese plus additional sour cream to pile on each serving (and this was in the days long before there was such a thing as nonfat sour cream or low-fat cheese). I made it quite often for years. It was wildly popular among my co-workers when I brought it to potlucks. Between this and the cheesecakes I used to make, I probably single-handedly contributed to the early demise of of several people.

But we’re here now in the Dark Days Of High Cholesterol, so I needed to find a way to make luscious enchiladas without so much animal fat. Someone on Facebook – I have forgotten who, so I can’t give credit – posted a recipe for chicken-avocado enchiladas that looked pretty good. I messed around with the recipe a little, then called friends to come over for dinner. None of us could stop eating it. We  cleaned the pan out. I’m telling you, this is good.

If you must, you can substitute canned green enchilada sauce, but this sauce is totally worth making. Both the sauce and filling can be made a day ahead if necessary,but do not add the avocados until ready to assemble the enchiladas.

CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS

SAUCE:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 cup salsa verde (I used La Victoria)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the garlic lightly for a minute. Do not allow garlic to brown.

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Stir in the flour, and cook & stir over medium-low heat for 2 more minutes.

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Add the chicken stock while stirring, and keep stirring until the sauce is lump-free. Add the cumin, salt, pepper, and salsa verde, and heat until thickened (it won’t be really thick – about the consistency of canned enchilada sauce). Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, pepper, or cumin as needed. Add the cilantro. When sauce tastes good, remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.

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  • Do not boil sauce after sour cream has been added.

TORTILLAS

  • 18 6-inch corn tortillas (I used Guerrero brand)

Heat 1/2″ oil in small frying pan. Test by dipping the edge of  a tortilla into the oil. If the oil sizzles, it’s ready. Fry each tortilla for about 5 seconds on each side. Do not try to crisp the tortillas; this step is to soften them. Turn with tongs, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels, and press the tortillas between the towels to absorb excess oil. Use as many paper towels as needed – I arrange about 3 tortillas on each towel, then top with another layer of towels.

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FILLING

  • 4 cups diced chicken (I used poached chicken from this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced pitted black olives
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon New Mexico chili powder
  • about 1 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 3 firm-ripe avocados, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used Cheddar, but use what you like – low-fat cheese is good here) (optional)

Combine all ingredients except cheese, using as much sour cream as necessary to coat everything. Mix gently to avoid mashing the avocados.

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Spread about 1/2 cup sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish.

Fill each tortilla with equal amounts of filling – for this much filling/this many 6″ tortillas, figure around 1/3 to 1/2 cup filling, but YMMV.

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Tuck each tortilla into the baking dish, open side down. Here I decided to make a double layer of enchiladas, so when the baking dish had one full layer, I poured some sauce over the first batch and sprinkled with about 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Or just make one layer if the baking dish is large enough.

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Second layer – pour the remaining sauce over, top with about 1/4 cup cheese. If you like, top with sliced tomatoes,  roasted red bell peppers, chopped olives, sliced avocado, etc.

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Bake at 350 until hot and bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.

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Serve this with beans – I made plain boiled pinto beans served in little bowls with cilantro and chopped red onion – rice, and a green salad.

Gluten- free option for the sauce:

Saute garlic in oil, then add broth, salsa verde, and seasonings. Thicken with a cornstarch slurry – when sauce is thickened, add sour cream and proceed with recipe from there.

IRAQI SPICE-RUBBED CHICKEN

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Remember Freedom Fries?

You cannot go around renaming food because you’re mad at its namesake. If we did that,  we would have had to say goodbye to hamburgers, Korean BBQ, chicken Kiev, peaches (old name for Persia, AKA Iran), seltzer, French toast,  German chocolate cake, and whoever else it is we don’t like this week.

So I make no apologies for Iraqi Spice-rubbed Chicken. If you feel very strongly about it, I suppose you could call it Mesopotamian Chicken or Assyrian Chicken, but really – let go of whatever feelings you may have about the politics, and revel in the amazing flavors of the cuisine.

This is from Saveur. I have slightly adapted it. See  recipe for The Greek Layered Salad  for details about and an explanation of sumac. Also? I think if any one (or two) spices are too difficult to locate, they could be skipped here – but I am a big proponent of a well-stocked spice cabinet. If your supermarket charges an arm and a leg for Spice Islands or McCormick or other name brands, seriously consider buying herbs & spices in bulk (as I do) and keeping in an old mustard jar, or buying from a mail-order place like Penzeys or Amazon. If you intend to learn to cook, it is imperative that you not be afraid of having ingredients at hand, and using them.

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IRAQI SPICE-RUBBED CHICKEN (DJAJ BIL-BAHAH IL-ASFAR)

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 4 dried red chiles, stemmed
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 8 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 4 dried rose hips (available at health food stores)

Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cardamom, chiles, allspice, and cloves, and cook to toast lightly, shaking the pan often, for one or two minutes until the spices become fragrant. Remove spices to a bowl (if you leave them in the pan, even off the heat, they will overcook.) Let cool.

If you have a spice grinder, grind the cooled spices in it, then mix with the other spices and mashed garlic.

If you don’t have a spice grinder, combine the toasted spices with the other spices and the mashed garlic in a blender or food processor, and blitz, stopping the machine often to scrape down the sides, until you have an unbelievably exotic-smelling blend.

Rub this spice mixture into the skin and under the skin of chicken. Discard any leftover spices (since you will have been dipping into it with hands that have been handling raw chicken).

Either grill chicken or roast in a 350 degree oven until cooked through (a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, or a knife inserted at that point produces clear or yellow juices – if the juices run pink, it isn’t done).

Use this on whole chickens to roast, or halved/cut-up pieces. Makes enough for about 6 pounds of chicken.

Appropriate accompaniments would be rice, especially Persian jeweled rice, or couscous, plus eggplant prepared in any of a thousand ways.  I think a raw, crisp salad with a tart vinaigrette or quick pickled vegetable is required here too. Fresh summer fruit such as apricots or melon would make a perfect dessert.

HOW TO CLARIFY BROTH

In the last post I talked about poaching chicken and having a lovely broth or stock left over as a result. Great stuff to have on hand to stir into sauces and make soup from – it’s a staple in my kitchen. The fat rises to the top when it is chilled and it’s ready to go.

But for aesthetic’s sake, sometimes you want a very clear broth instead of the murky, cloudy stock you might have – especially if the broth boiled for any length of time. It might look like this:

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There’s nothing wrong with that – unless, as I said, you want a really clear broth such as for consommé. Don’t knock consommé , and do not confuse homemade with Campbell’s Consommé  in a can, which is pretty damn salty. It’s warming on a cold night – and if it’s rich, flavorful stock with a final garnish  of a fine mince of raw vegetables (carrot, celery, turnip, onion), you have consommé brunoise, which makes an excellent recherche, non-filling  starter to an elegant dinner. (There are infinite other consommé variations, all of them delicious.)

Anyway. To clarify stock that’s muddled and cloudy, heat the strained -of-bones-and-veg stock to simmering. While it’s heating, for each quart of stock (more or less; you don’t need to be precise) beat one egg white until thick and puffy.

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Now: whisk that fluffy egg white into the simmering stock.  Stir it around a time or two, then turn the heat UP and bring the stock to a boil. Immediately turn the heat OFF again, remove the pan from the heat, and let cool to warm-ish.

DSCN1032The nice white egg white will start to look like four-day-old New York snow.

DSCN1034Now get a clean dish towel – not a terry-cloth one, unless you enjoy chewy bits in your broth – and dampen it, then wring it out. Place the towel over a wire-mesh strainer  and place that over a bowl, and pour the stock-egg mixture into the towel. Let it drain.

DO NOT DISTURB THIS. If you try to hurry it by shaking the strainer or pressing on the towel, you will get cloudy gunk in the broth, so LEAVE IT ALONE.

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End result:

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Store, covered, in the refrigerator about four days. This method works on any meat stock – chicken, beef, pork, lamb, whatever – and makes a sediment-y stock into a much more appetizing soup by itself.

POACHED CHICKEN

We were watching Rachel Ray make something-or-other when she instructed the viewer to “add the boiled chicken.” My husband said, “Boiled chicken? You just… boil a chicken?” Well, kind of, but not really. I thought of how many recipes include “3 cups diced cooked chicken.” Where do most people get that three cups of cooked chicken… do they buy one of those canned chickens (I have seen photos and that is as close as I ever intend to get to one of those)? Do they buy a rotisserie chicken? Or do they just turn to another recipe?

“Boiled” chicken is actually poached chicken. If you were to cook a chicken at a full boil for an hour…. oh God, I can’t even imagine what that would result in, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. To poach a chicken, you do bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers. Result: lots of moist, tender chicken meat, and a bonus of delicious chicken broth.

So: put the chicken and all its guts in a stockpot (i.e. a pot that is taller than it is wide) or at least a pot that will hold the chicken comfortably. Add an onion (you don’t have to peel it – cut in half if it fits better), a carrot or two (also not peeled, but cut up), a stalk of celery (ditto), a bay leaf,  a garlic clove or two or three, and a few peppercorns.  No salt! Add cold water to cover the chicken. If you have some white wine or dry white vermouth lying around, pour a generous glug of that in too.

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Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat on high, and wait…

As the water gets closer to a boil, you will see some yucky-looking foamy grey stuff rise to the surface. Don’t flip out. It’s coagulated juices and (yes) blood. If you have ever grilled a burger, you saw the same stuff form on top of the ground beef. When protein is heated to the boiling point, this happens. Just get a spoon, scoop it off and discard it, though it isn’t toxic – it’s just unsightly.

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Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat immediately and let the chicken cook at a bare simmer. If the water level drops, add more water or white wine.

How to tell when it’s done? Poke around in the leg-thigh joint with a knife. If the juices are red or pink, it isn’t done. If they’re yellow or clear, it’s done. A 4 or 5 pound chicken will take around 60 to 80 minutes.  Now comes the messy part: getting a hot chicken out of the pot. Get a large bowl and a large carving fork, and carefully-but-quickly transfer the chicken to the bowl.  Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it.

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Once you can handle the chicken without burning the hell out of yourself, separate the meat from the bones & skin. Put the meat in one bowl –

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and put the bones & skin back in the stockpot.

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The chicken is now ready to eat or use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Store, covered, in the refrigerator – it will last about four or five days.

Return the chicken broth to a simmer and cook for another hour or two. Then strain and discard the bones, skin, and vegetables. You now have a very flavorful stock that can be used right away, or poured into a hot sterilized container (such as a canning jar or two) and stored in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top as it cools, effectively sealing the broth; the fat can easily be lifted off and discarded (or used as schmaltz, for which I will refer you to The Shiksa Blog). It will keep for about five days in the fridge, after which it should be re-boiled and re-poured into a sterilized container. Or it freezes very well; pour it into small containers of a size you’d be likely use (such as 1-cup), or pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the chicken broth cubes in a freezer bag for a very fast, convenient way to utilize them.

ROAST CHICKEN, OR WHY YOU SHOULDN’T REVEAL ALL YOUR TRICKS AT ONCE

I was in the check-out line at the supermarket. In the cart along with everything else I had a couple of Cornish game hens. The woman behind me – who, as I recall, had a giant-size bottle of really cheap vodka along with everything else – asked me what those were and what you did with them.  I launched into a spiel about how easy they are to cook, just put them in the oven and roast them, and they are so delicious. I went on like that for a couple of minutes while she paid close attention, nodding and murmuring, “Uh-huh,” at the right moments. When I concluded, she asked, “And do you take the plastic wrap off them before you put them in the oven?”

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For some years now I’ve been working on my roast chicken technique. For a while I tried roasting at a low (325F/162C) temperature, and the results were good, but it took forever to get done. I tried roasting it at 375F/190C which was faster, but I thought dried it out a bit. I tried putting the chicken on a rack like the fancy cookbooks tell you, and wound up having to wash the rack and get the little bits of skin off it, which is tedious donkey work, I’m telling you.  I put  chili powder under the skin and beer in the pan, started the chicken breast-down and flipping it to breast-up half way through, folded the wings akimbo, tied the legs, stuffed and unstuffed. I finally came to the conclusion that the best roast chicken was also the simplest. But I also thought that maybe plain roast chicken was just… too plain, and that it wasn’t going to wow anyone except me.

When I met my husband eight years ago, he liked to make pan-fried chicken with gravy, and he was proud of it.  I made various oven-fried chicken dishes, and some of them were pretty good.  We made beer-can chicken, which is good but kind of a gimmick, and it takes forever.  About two years ago I decided to make my plain roast chicken for him. It smelled really good as it roasted… brought it to the table…  served it up. He hasn’t made fried chicken since. He couldn’t believe that I had been making this for myself all these years but  never for him. I think if we hadn’t already been married that it would have sealed the deal.

Moral of the story: don’t reveal all your tricks at once. Hold back some of the clever things you know how to do. Bring them out when you feel like showing off.

It always surprises me that people don’t make roast chicken, preferring instead to buy a packet of Shake & Bake or a jar of Chicken Tonight (do they still make that?) or pour a can of Campbell’s Cream of WTF over an innocent chicken. But then I look at the recipes online: Ina Garten’s recipe for “Perfect Roast Chicken” takes 11 ingredients including a bulb of fennel. Tyler Florence’s “The Ultimate Roast Chicken” involves six strips of bacon and three bunches of fresh herbs.  And so on. No wonder people don’t roast chicken – they think they have to buy all this other stuff.

Well, you don’t. All you need, really, is a chicken. Of course it will be a little fancier and taste a little more special with some seasonings, but really, you don’t need to run to Dean and DeLuca.  And I’ve never trussed a chicken and don’t intend to start now. This is easy comfort food at its simplest and best but is also appropriate for a very fancy dinner. I think this is a dish aspiring cooks should learn to make: it’s the little black dress of cooking.

Below: this is what I use. Salt, freshly ground pepper, thyme from the garden, fresh lemon, homemade lemon pepper (see previous post), and wine. But just salt and pepper would be fine too.

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So you’ve got a chicken, which presumably is thawed. If the cavity is still frozen, run water into it so you can remove the contents. Below, clockwise from top left: fat globules pulled from the chicken’s bum, the heart, the gizzard, the liver, the neck. You can throw them away if you want. You can cook the heart, gizzard, and liver, chop them, and give them to your cat. You can render the fat to make schmaltz and gribenes. Or you can do what I do, and add them to the pan.

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If you’re using a lemon, rub the chicken all over with the cut side, squeezing it as you go. This will cut surface bacteria and freshen the meat – sometimes a chicken just removed from its plastic bag has a slightly plastic-y smell. (If it has an OBVIOUSLY off smell, take it back to the store pronto.) Squeeze the juice inside too. Sometimes I put the squeezed-out rinds in the cavity while it roasts.

There is ample room under the skin to fit your hand (remove your rings first!) so you can easily season the breast meat – which tends to be very bland. Here I am pushing some thyme leaves under the skin.  The skin is attached by a very thin membrane right down the breastbone. You can ignore it and work around it, or you can cut it with scissors or a knife, or carefully break it with your fingers.  Doesn’t matter.

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If you don’t like thyme or don’t have any, you can use fresh minced parsley (use the flat-leaf Italian parsley; it has MUCH more flavor than the curly decorative kind), chopped rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, or whatever fresh herb floats your boat. Or don’t use any. But you probably want to rub some salt and freshly ground pepper under and over the skin, all over the chicken, including in the cavity. I also use lemon pepper here, but again, that is up to you.

Below: a chicken all dressed up with seasonings. I’ve put the giblets in the pan and poured in some white wine. I also added a little water and some chicken broth. Use one, two, or three – or none, if you like, but I like to have a goodly amount of liquid – about 1 inch – in the pan to make gravy with after the chix is done. If you don’t, that’s fine.

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OK. Put the chicken in the oven and set the oven at 350F (you don’t need to preheat the oven for this). Go away for a while.

After about 40 minutes:

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You can baste the chicken if you want. I do, but I’m not sure it makes any difference. It makes me feel useful, though.

After 1 hour:

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At this point I threw in some halved mushrooms because we had some that needed to be used, Certainly not required.

After 1 1/2 hours, the chicken is starting to look relaxed.

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When is the chicken done? Most cookbooks tell you to use a thermometer, either the type that you leave in during the entire cooking process or the instant-read type, and you can certainly do this. Myself, I gauge it by the leg wiggle test: if the leg wiggles easily, it’s done. If the skin appears to be getting too dark, loosely tent a sheet of aluminum foil over it.

This chicken was about 5 1/2 pounds, so it roasted about 2 hours before I judged it done. When it came out of the oven the last time, I moved it and the giblets to a plate and poured the broth left in the casserole dish into a pot so my husband could skim off the excess fat and make gravy.

Cornish game hens are roasted exactly the same way, though they will take only about 45 minutes to an hour.  And do take the plastic wrap off first.

To make gravy:

Mix 3 tablespoons cornstarch with 3 tablespoons cold water in a cup. Pour the broth into a saucepan, skim off excess fat with a spoon, and heat until just starting to simmer. Slowly pour in about half of the cornstarch slurry, stirring constantly. Adjust the heat so it doesn’t boil hard and keep stirring. The gravy will thicken; if it isn’t as thick as you like, add more of the slurry until it thickens to your preference. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

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CHICKEN ANATOMY 101, OR HOW TO CUT UP A WHOLE CHICKEN (GRAPHIC PHOTOS AHEAD!)

There was a time, little children, when chickens were only available in their entirety – heads, feathers, feet, and all. They were never sold in a red-and-white striped box already cooked; you had to dispatch the bird (or have the butcher do that for you), take off its little chicken’s suit and cook it yourself.  Then grocers started being competitive with each other and somebody started offering de-feathered birds, and then someone else started removing the feet, and pretty soon you could buy a whole chicken without any of  that stuff. But that was as far as it went for many years.

When I was a wee tot – and dear knows that was back in the Dark Ages – chickens were only available as whole-body. Parts were not for sale separately unless they were special-ordered way ahead of time. And that was when chicken was expensive. This might come as a shock, but veal was cheaper than chicken. S’truth. There was a popular recipe called Veal Birds – veal disguised to make it look like the more expensive and therefore desirable chicken. Now we have recipes for Chicken Piccata – chicken prepared in a recipe traditionally made with veal.

And then growing methods changed. By the 1950s, it was possible to raise a chicken to market weight in 1/3 the time it had fifty years before. Unless you buy free-range chicken, that fryer in the plastic wrap was raised in a highly efficient “intensive” factory setting with genetic selection and nutritional modifications for rapid development. The discussion of ethics and morality of that are for another time and place, but the result for consumers was that supermarket chicken plummeted in price and skyrocketed in availability.

Coincidentally, American interest in cooking began to grow at the same time that chicken prices fell and availability rose. It became very profitable for growers to offer chicken parts, such as a tray of legs or wings, and mark those up considerably per pound from a whole-body chicken. The wings in particular are a moneymaker, especially in the winter when they’re often consumed on Sunday afternoons in front of a TV turned to sports. When you think about how little meat is on a chicken wing, you realize that chicken growers are laughing all the way to the bank.

Which is why it’s a good thing to know how to cut up a chicken. Back in the 1930s my father worked at a chicken processing plant. As a result, he could cut up a whole chicken in – I am not exaggerating – twenty seconds. I asked him once to show me how. He whipped out a knife and went whappity whappity chop chop chop and suddenly the whole chicken had been reduced to a neat pile of parts. Obviously I didn’t learn much from that. I tried going by the drawings in cookbooks, which bore about as much resemblance to an actual chicken as a Barbie doll does to actual female anatomy. It was many years before I taught myself how, leaving a lot of badly mangled chicken parts in my wake.

I’m not going to claim that this is the approved technique used by fine chefs and cooking authorities the world over. This method ignores completely, for instance, the “Airline cut,” an oddity I first encountered in England – a boneless chicken breast with the first joint of the wing attached. It looks like something went terribly wrong in surgery.  And I have no interest in making boneless, skinless chicken breasts – to me, it’s the blandest part of the chicken and I don’t see any point in glamorizing it.

But I am going to claim that big money can be saved by buying whole chickens and cutting them up yourself. Looking at a Safeway advertisement online today,  whole chickens cost 99 cents a pound, while drumsticks/breasts/thigh packs are $1.99/pound. Getting even more ridiculous, boneless skinless chicken breasts range from $4.49 to $5.49 per pound. That’s just insane. The more work that’s done for you, the more you pay. Sometimes it’s worth it to have someone do work for you, but I say not in this instance.

You won’t do this perfectly the first time, so practice on a chicken that you’re going to make into soup or chicken salad, something where looks won’t matter.

Beware: full frontal nudity and violence ahead.

You are going to need a decent knife for this. I don’t mean a steak knife or paring knife. You need a chef’s knife (at least 9″) or better yet, a cleaver. You can get a decent cleaver for around $20. Chinese gift shops, hardware stores, and cooking stores have them, though you’ll pay more at cooking stores. This is not a toy: you can do some serious damage with this baby, so don’t just hack down without making sure your fingers are out of the way. That said, don’t be afraid, either. Keep your hands and the handle clean and as dry and grease-free as possible.

Below is a whole chicken, breast side up. I say this because some people don’t know which side is which. The breast is the soft, fleshy, breast-y side. The back is the bony side. She’s rather flagrantly flaunting herself here, the saucy minx.

The first thing you do is remove the giblets from the cavity. If the chicken is still icy inside, you may have to run water into the cavity to loosen them.

Not all chickens will have all the parts listed. Once in a while you get a chicken with nothing inside,or you might get one with two livers. Sometimes they’re packaged in a little bag, sometimes not.  Depends on what happened when the chicken went through the assembly line (those organs are not the ones belonging to the chicken herself but to her chicken buddies who also met their fate that day).

The neck is the bony part. The heart is small, firm, oval, and looks not unlike a human heart (sorry if that freaks you out). The liver is soft and floppy and will be the largest part. Sometimes it has a lot of green color, in which case, throw it away. That means the bile duct ruptured and bile spilled into it. Bile is about the bitterest taste you can imagine and will ruin anything it touches. If the chicken liver is yellowish, that’s OK; it will be extra-rich. The gizzard is a double-lobed butterfly-shaped organ that is very tough. Set all of these aside.

[Side story: in 1980 my mother was working on Thanksgiving Day, and my brother and I were in charge of making dinner.  We found the neck in the body cavity, but the giblets were missing, so we went ahead and roasted the turkey. When my mother got home, we told her that turkey didn’t have any giblets. She gave us a withering look and said, “You dumb kids,” reached into the neck cavity, and pulled out a small bag of now-roasted giblets.]

First remove the wings:

Flip the chicken over so it’s breast-side-down. Pull the wing away from the body so that you can probe into the joint with the tip of the cleaver, slicing the skin so you can see what you’re doing.

Repeat on the other side of the chicken. Set wings aside.

Now remove the legs and thighs:

Turn the chicken on its back so the breast is up. Pull the leg away from the body and again use the cleaver to slice through the skin so you can see what you’re doing.

As you pull the leg and slice the skin, the thigh will be exposed.

When the thigh starts to come away from the body, pull it to the side away from the chicken body  (not up, and not toward you) and continue to probe with the cleaver. The thigh socket will be exposed. You want to cut into the far side of the socket joint (that is, the side closest to the chicken) because that is a LOT easier than cutting through the thigh bone.

You now have a thigh-leg piece. If you wish, you can leave it as is and cook it that way, but if you want to separate them:

Now you have the thigh and the leg pieces.  Repeat on the other side of the chicken. Set those parts aside with the wings.

If your cutting surface is getting greasy, you might want to mop up some of the grease and wash your hands and the cleaver handle too. Once everything you’re working with gets greasy, it’s easy to slip and cut wrong, or worse, cut yourself.

The results:

Now you’re going to split the breast:

This looks scarier than it is. What’s the worst that could happen? It takes a little muscle to push the cleaver into the breast, but have faith and keep a steady hand. You’ll hear some cracking as the bones split.

Pull the split breast apart to reveal the interior cavity.

Flip the chicken over. This is what you have:

Now cut and separate the breasts from the back. This is pretty easy cutting.

Now you have two half-breasts, the back, and the pope’s nose.

You can leave the breasts as is, or cut them in half again.

So now you have something that looks like this:

You have now cut up a whole chicken.

Some people cook the back and pope’s nose along with the other meatier parts, but I put them ( along with the neck & organs)  in a bag in the freezer. When I collect about 5-6 pounds worth, I simmer them with an onion, a couple of carrots & celery stalks, peppercorns, white wine, and water to cover to make chicken stock. If you like chicken livers or making pâté, collect those in a small freezer container until you have enough for your purpose.

And sometimes I just simmer the heart, gizzard, and liver until they’re tender and cooked all the way through, cut them into small pieces, and give them to the cats.

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