Breaking down a Local, Organic Chicken

26 Sep

Stephanie Backer-Bertsch, NOFA-NY Registration Coordinator, gives us a very real look at her way of celebrating local, organic poultry.  She learned how to butcher a chicken to be able to take full advantage of this well-raised and high-value food.  Note: pictures of raw chicken and meat are part of this post.  They are not bloody or particularly graphic, and show the animal being used in the most celebratory and respectful way possible.  However, we understand not everyone eats meat, and some may choose not to read on.  For those who do eat meat, learning to work with direct-from-farmer meats couldn’t be more in line with the Locavore Challenge.  Thus we present Stephanie’s adventure with the images.

Hello Locavores! In celebration of Locavore month, I decided to document breaking down a whole chicken for you all. I recently took a knife skills class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY and thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase what I had learned—and see whether or not I was paying attention.

It started with a bird. Not just any bird, mind you, but a gorgeous 4lb local AND organic chicken from Lakestone Family Farm located in Shortsville, NY. My plan was to break the chicken down into 8 pieces. I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do with the bird but the goal was to put the entire chicken to use. Since this was my first stint at this I thought it best to find an environment free of feline distraction—my parents’ house! I also secretly hoped my dad would act as a poultry advisor of some sort. The man has handled a chicken or two and is a culinary wizard in my book. Everything was coming together nicely.

Dad and me, blurry but appropriately fashioned for our chicken party.

Dad and me, blurry but appropriately fashioned for our chicken party. 

[Editor’s two cents: remember how the right tools and a special outfit make your locavore cooking adventures a bit more fun? Looks like Stephanie and her dad are on to that technique, too].

It’s important to have a good, sharp knife.  A chef’s knife is all you need, in fact.

Celebrating a beautiful bird!

Pausing in celebration of a beautiful bird!

First, I eyed the gams. I pulled the right drumstick away from the body to stretch the skin taught. There was a line of fat and I followed my knife along that keeping the incision shallow and only cutting through the skin.

chicken3

chicken3a

Tada!

Next, I twisted the leg in a downward motion away from the body to pop the ball joint out of the socket. I cut through the exposed joint with my sharp chef’s knife and, voila! I had the leg consisting of the drumstick and thigh! I repeated this on the other side.

chicken4

Next, I removed the backside of the bird, or the spine, by positioning the chicken vertically with the butt up. I ran the knife through the skin and cartilage between the breasts and the backside of the chicken. Cutting through the ribs proved to be a bit tricky but if you have a good sharp knife and brute strength (which it seems I do), it’s no biggie. In the spirit of not wasting, and thus capitalizing on each way the bird could feed me, I saved the backbone and made a nice stock for some homemade chicken soup down the road.  If I weren’t butchering the bird myself, think of what deliciousness I’d be missing out on!

chicken5

Splitting the breast was up next. I separated the breasts by cutting through the center and cracking the sternum with my knife. Now I had 4 very handsome cuts before me.  Amid the chicken mess (albeit an organic and local chicken mess) that was now taking over the kitchen and my electronics, I was really enjoying myself!

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To separate the chicken and thigh, I found the ball joint and cut through it for two pieces of bird yielding dark meat (my favorite!)

chicken7

I separated the wings from the breast next. Again, cutting through a joint was involved but I was so in the zone at this point I’m not sure I remember the details! The process became very intuitive as I became more intimate with the chicken’s anatomy.

chicken8

While I fixated on my butchering process my dad whisked away the chicken’s heart and liver for his breakfast the following day. He also decided we would make Chicken Fricassee featuring all the broken down parts—a favorite of my childhood. Yum! [Try this very locavore-adaptable version of a Chicken Fricassee, if you’re game.]

My dad browning the meat that had been seasoned and lightly dusted with flour!

My dad browning the meat that had been seasoned and lightly dusted with flour!

The final result:

 

Holy deliciousness!

Holy deliciousness!

In the end, I felt very accomplished to have tackled my chicken butchering goal and very grateful my Locavore challenge resulted in a fantastic meal with my family.

 

I did it all on my own!

I did it all on my own!

Thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie!  For a few more meat-prep how-to’s, we recommend the following books:

Good Meat by Deborah Krasner

Long Way on a Little and Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes

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