Monday, October 29, 2007

Frugal Food: How to Break Down a Chicken

I hit a frugal food milestone last night: I bought a whole chicken and broke it down, for the first time ever. It's in my fridge, soaking in buttermilk, and tonight, K and I are going to pan-fry that sucker.

Breaking down your chicken yourself is frugal for two reasons: you save money on the chicken meat, and you get something extra: the carcass. From a chicken carcass (or two), you can make delicious homemade stock. I think I'll wait until I have two carcasses, and make a really intense stock for chicken soup. Maybe I'll even save the schmaltz (chicken fat skimmed off the stock) & make matzoh balls! There's nothing better for when the weather starts to change, and if you're making stock from carcasses you've already got sitting in the freezer and some schmaltz you just skimmed off the stock, all you really need is a box of matzoh meal (cheap!), some parsley (cheap!), and an onion (cheap!). I'm looking forward to it.

Anyway, I definitely did an amateurish job on my chicken: the skin doesn't really match the chicken parts, and I think I cut through a joint on one of the drumsticks instead of cleanly dislocating it from the thigh. The breasts are definitely smaller than they should be; I didn't do a great job of cutting them off the ribcage.

But with practice, I'll get better, which means I'll be getting an even better value for my chicken dollar. And I like knowing where my food comes from. Also, of course, the longer a bird stays whole, the fresher it is.

There are a ton of online resources for learning to break down chickens. Alton Brown gives a very helpful demonstration about halfway through this clip, and Chowhound offers this video tutorial. I prefer Alton's method; he teaches you to remove the wishbone instead of just cutting through it.

Happy butchery!


Sistah Ant said...

the better i get at not throwing things away/re-using stuff (like chicken carcasses), the smarter i feel... (and i become a better cook, too!)

Strange Bird said...

I would never have thought of this (I've always bought breast meat only)... I should look into it!

English Major said...

Strange Bird, I think a lot of women who were brought up in the age of low-fat view boneless, skinless chicken breast as the only way to do chicken. I certainly did until frugality expanded my horizons.

First, I switched to boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which are cheaper and, for my money, much tastier. But I'm really excited about the idea of a whole chicken: I can't remember the last time I had chicken with skin, or a drumstick, and I'm excited about giving them both a shot. I think, especially if I were living by myself and cooking only for one, whole chickens would become a major staple: It could take three or four days to polish off the whole thing, not even including the carcass, and it didn't even cost me $6.

English Major said...

And Sistah Ant, I agree: it's a good reminder of how much of cooking has its roots in home economy--think about all the ways we have to use up miscellaneous meat-bits and stale bread, for example. Meatballs, anyone?

Mrs. Micah said...

I've been doing thighs but never a whole bird. I'll have to look into that! :-) A homemade stock would be nice.

And if you're going to eat it, it doesn't matter how delicately it's cut.

Anonymous said...

Another thing about buying whole chickens, they go on sale fairly often. Look for 3 pound fryers. And as long as they have not been previously frozen, you can cut them up and freeze them in individual portions for future use.

Chuck said...

You can get the same satisfaction from butchering your own beef as well. There is a Good Eats episode on buying a whole tenderloin and butchering it for much cheaper than the precut price.

mapgirl said...

Whole birds are easy. I usually get the rotisserie chicken from the market, but it's nice to do a rosemary, lemon, garlic rubdown every once in a while.

Another recipe idea brewing... Thanks!

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