Monday, April 28, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Whole Chickens

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

All the things I've read encouraging me to eat local, pastured chickens, make it sound like an easy no-brainer thing to do. Factory-produced chickens are fed cheap food in unnatural conditions and thus are missing nutrients and flavor. Farm-raised chickens lead happier, healthier lives resulting in flavorful meat with more nutrients, including those important omega-3 fatty acids. But, if you're like me and used to buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts for stir-fries and leg quarters for grilling, the fact that local chickens are sold whole is more than a little intimidating.

When the Kirkwood Farmers Market opened at the beginning of April, I decided that now was the time to make the switch. It's the end of April and I can proudly say that I'm no longer intimidated by the whole chickens I buy from Farrar Out Farm.

Here's how the transformation happened.

Chicken 1. I thought maybe the fact that I have carved lots of whole roasted birds might mean that I could just wing it. But things are different when the bird isn't cooked and when you're looking for pieces more than slices, so it all got rather mangled around the ribs and back bone. I wanted instructions for next time.

Chicken 2. The Cooking for Engineers website has a very helpful, illustrated method for Cutting Up Chicken. I did much better getting my second chicken into parts with those instructions although I needed some practice finding the leg and wing joints -- they are much closer to the main body than I seem to think they are. Cutting up the whole chicken into parts was proving to be fairly easy, but it was about this time that I realized the real challenge -- deboning the chicken breast to make those skinless, boneless chicken breasts that we're using in stir-fries 2 or 3 times a week right now.

Chicken 3. Cooking for Engineers had a page on Boning Chicken Breast, but when I finished those instructions, there were still bones in my chicken! Next time, I'll try a different set of instructions.

Chicken 4. R cut up this chicken and deboned the breast while I read the instructions from the new (2006) Joy of Cooking. It went better--this time we ran out of bones before we ran out of instructions. But I still felt like I didn't have a real understanding, a method that I could use over and over again to quickly prepare whole chickens.

Chicken 5. The break-through came, for me, with a video on You Tube: No Feathers "How to Debone a Chicken". He's working with a cooked chicken, but the process for getting the bones out of the breast worked just the same on my raw chicken. I wasn't as fast or as smooth, but I got it done and, even more, feel like I could do it again. He uses shears for all the cutting, I used a knife for parts of it, but the shears really made the difference in the deboning.

So, it took 5 chickens for me to get comfortable. But, even the first four chickens tasted good! The flavor and texture is definitely an improvement over supermarket chicken.

Post submitted to the Farmers Market Fare carnival at Eat. Drink. Better.

1 comment:

Amy said...

This is awesome Joy! I remember you mentioning this before, and it's amazing that you had the patience to keep trying. Perhaps this summer we'll be motivated to do the same :-)