Sunday 22 February 2009
How to de-bone a Chicken...
Or a Duck, or a Guinea-fowl, or a Poussin, or indeed any kind of poultry whatsoever; there are some minor internal differences between each of them, but nothing that need get in the way of this process, which is actually quite straightforward and is well worth mastering.
A de-boned bird goes much further than one which has been cooked bone-in ( a medium-sized Chicken will feed six people with ease, treated this way) and a bird which you buy whole and cut up yourself comes out to be much cheaper than the aggregate cost of all the parts, were you to buy them all separately. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a whole Duck, which I then de-boned, and used the carcase for stock, the breasts for a main course for four, the legs for confit, and the fat was rendered down into a generous amount that should last me several weeks at least as a delicious cooking agent. Bought separately, that lot would have come to around £18 - which was almost twice what the duck had actually cost me.
I can't remember when I first de-boned Chicken, but I certainly associate it with a Paul Bocuse recipe for boned-and-roast Chicken, which I first started to do sometime in the mid eighties (I think I saw him demonstrate it on a programme on the Food Channel in the States...) and it's been a standard in my repertoire ever since.
Two points to remember in de-boning a Chicken:
1. Make sure your knife is very sharp! In fact, I tend to use a vegetable paring knife rather than a proper boning knife - it's up to you to use whichever you find most comfortable to work with - but whichever it is, make sure you sharpen the knife freshly before you begin.
2. Always work the knife towards you when de-boning. And as I'm right-handed, I always start with the left side of the bird, freeing the rib-cage from the flesh, and then, when I've done that side of the bird, I turn it round, so that the side to be worked on is once more on the left side of the bird, which means I can continue working the knife towards me. Were I left-handed, then I presume I'd start with the right side of the bird and reverse the process, in order always to be working towards myself.
1. Place the bird breast-down on the work surface, and cut through the skin just to one side of the back-bone. Then slide the tip of the blade under the flesh and free it up between the leg and wing on the left-side of the bird.
2. Keeping the knife blade as close to the rib-cage as you can, free the meat away from the rib-cage for about an inch or so, and then turn your attention to the leg and the wing.
3. Carefully, cut around the top of the leg, freeing it from the carcase, and find exactly where the leg joins the carcase. Sever the tissue that connects the two, and then cut down to free the leg completely from the main part of the bird. Repeat this process with the wing-joint.
4. Once the wing and leg joints have been severed, free the breast meat from the rib-cage in its entirety with a couple of good cuts (try and make your cuts as clean as possible, and as close to the ribcage as you can manage, to avoid slashing the breast meat as you do so - at first it's inevitable that the breast will emerge looking a little 'ragged', but in practice this doesn't matter, and your technique will hugely improve once you've done this a few times).
5. Once you've freed one side of the bird entirely from the rib-cage, turn it round, and repeat the process with the other side. At the end of this stage you'll be able to extract the entire rib-cage and drop it into the waiting stockpot.
6. Next, remove the lower bone in each leg, by cutting down and around the bone and severing it at the 'knee' joint (this is essentially common sense, and needs no special explanation). Unless I need the bird entirely boneless (for a galantine or a ballotine, for example) then I stop at this stage, and either roast the bird in this state (with a butter and herb stuffing pushed generously between the skin and the meat) or else cut it up into its constituent parts to be used in either sauté or fricassé dishes.
Once you've tried this a few times, you'll find you get very quick at it ( I find a decent sized bird takes me about five minutes to de-bone, these days) and the result is well worth the effort.