It's time for a confession: I have never butchered a chicken. Why? Well, mostly because raw chicken gives me the willies. I like chicken, I eat it all the time, and I don't get that same skin-crawly feeling around raw beef or pork, but raw chicken is something I've just never really been fond of handling. (Side note: I often find when I admit this to people that I'm not alone. Raise your hand if you share my irrational fears!) So anyway, in the past, when I've needed my chicken in pieces (as opposed to a whole roaster) typically I buy it that way. Shameful, I know.
Therefore, this butchering-themed episode of Martha Stewart's Cooking School was the one I was dreading the most, on one hand, but on the other, I knew it was the kick in the pants I needed to finally buck up and, well, cut up.
And I was so full of confidence until … the feet. But more on that later. First, a lesson from Martha.
This lesson on butchering, as you might imagine, was laden with intricate detail and instruction. Martha and her pal Evan Lobel, a fifth generation butcher, took us through how to properly butcher not just a chicken but a leg of lamb, rack of lamb, pork loin and beef tenderloin. These same processes are also laid out her in book, Martha Stewart's Cooking School which, frankly, if you don't yet own, should at least be on your Christmas list. She painstakingly explains both with words and images the step-by-step process of butchering each of these items far better than I possibly could in this blog post, so for practicality's sake, I'm going to focus on the two I found most simple and straightforward to explain: the chicken and the beef tenderloin. Below are recaps of her lessons on those:
How to Butcher a Chicken
1. Remove the legs by first placing the bird breast side up. Pull the leg away from the body and slice through the skin between the breast and thigh. Pull on the thighbone until it pops out of its socket, then slice all the way through. Do the same on the other side.
2. To remove the wing, on each side, pull the wing away from the body to find the joint, then cut between that joint and the breast to remove.
3. Separate the breast from the back by pulling the breast away from the rib cage and slicing between.
4. To separate the breasts, slice at the top, then crack in half with your hands. Cut through remaining meat and skin. Cut meat from bones if desired.
5. As an option, the drumstick and thigh can be cut apart, and the breasts can be cut in half as well.
How to Butcher a Beef Tenderloin
1. Start with a completely trimmed tenderloin. (Hey, Martha and Evan did! And don't feel bad. Certainly we want to keep butchers employed.)
2. Remove the, as Evan referred to it, butt tender, or the head. Separate the larger side piece and cut into small chunks for fondue. Cut the remaining pieces into approximately 1/2 inch slices for Stroganoff, or, flatten down large chunks then cut at an angle into strips for pepper steak.
3. Cut away the châteaubriand, or center portion, which should be about six to eight inches. Sear in a cast iron pan, then finish off in the oven, or cut into 1 1/2 inch filets.
4. With the remaining tournedo, or tail, slice into pieces about a 1/4 inch thick to make Scallopini. Or to make carpaccio, freeze the tournedo, then slice thinly and pound out with a mallet to make even thinner.
Manned with Martha's methods, I headed to Lindy & Grundy to pick up a whole chicken. It wasn't until I got it home that I discovered its little secret.
The feet. I was not anticipating the chicken feet. I was nervous enough about having to manhandle this raw chicken, but as I unknowingly withdrew a foot from the cavity, the sight of it nearly sent me into a panic attack. I was going to have to cut these feet off myself — a step Martha and Evan were spared. As are most people. This was a curveball.
Not stable enough to be in the same room with the chicken feet, I left the kitchen and sent out a tweet looking for tips on feet-removal. @LindyGrundy, in all their social media savviness, answered me: “the feet come off very easily,” they said, “you remove them at their natural joint. 🙂 just a clean cut with a sharp knife!”
And of course they were right, or at least, I believe they would have been, had my Wüsthof seen a stone in recent weeks. After a bit of novice-style sawing, eventually I got the feet removed — despite turning away at points and squealing audibly enough that the neighbors must have wondered what was going on — but off they came, and I relaxed a bit, knowing the worst was over.
The rest of the butchering process went relatively smoothly, though the breasts turned out smaller than I'd hoped (insert glaringly obvious joke here) due to some less than expert cutting away of the bones. I saved the back and neck (which, after the feet trauma, I decided not to cut through if I didn't have to) for chicken stock, which I now know how to make, thanks to last week's episode.
Clearly, though, butchering takes practice, and now that I've gotten over the fear hump, I can only go up from here. First, though, a pit stop at Gary's Knife Sharpening Service is clearly necessary.
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