Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cutting Chicken

When I moved out of my parents’ house and started living on my own, I was thankful for any money-saving, practical advice and tips. Things like “You only need about an eighth of a scoop of laundry detergent to wash a large load” are not written on the packaging, because, of course, the manufacturer wants you to buy more detergent. But it worked, and saved me a bundle of money.

One of the money-saving tips my dad, Mr. GoGoGo, passed along was how inexpensive whole frying hens are. For about $5 (less, if you watch the ads), you can get an entire chicken. With a slow-cooker, you can cook the whole thing and feast on it for days. Or, you can cut it up yourself, and have the pieces for other sumptuous dishes at a fraction of the price of buying the butcher-cut pieces.

Dad showed me how to cut up a chicken a million times. He got me the fancy filleting knife, with its thin and slender blade that fits neatly between the joints for easy disassembly. He taught me how to remove the skin off the pieces to reduce fat intake. And he’d disinfect the knife, the entire counter, and the cutting board when he was done. I also watched Alton Brown’s episode on cutting up a chicken, too, with the nifty dinosaur skeleton as a visual aid to show joint locations. For a while, I actually hung on to the “how to” pretty well.

I think I’ve cut up 1 or 2 chickens in my day. The fact of the matter is, I think it’s gross. I simply don’t like how it feels between my fingers. I don’t like pulling the skin from the muscle (gross), snapping the leg joint (gross), or even reaching inside the “cavity” for the little baggie of innards neatly packaged so I can throw them away (super gross). Not to mention the carcass. My dad always cooks the carcass for broth – or freezes it to cook for broth later. Um, that means a chicken skeleton in the freezer (gross).

And I’ve discovered a few things about eating chicken, too that made this ritual even less desirable. Once you cut up a chicken, there are still only 2 breasts, 2 backs, and 2 drumsticks. No one eats the wings (too bony), and with the distribution of the parts according to my family’s preferences, I always ended up eating the back (also pretty bleepin’ bony). If I wanted pure, un-bony chicken breast, well, that’s another chicken… So I stopped buying whole fryers and cutting them up myself. The $6 I spend on fresh chicken breasts means I get to eat the good stuff, too, and I don’t have to stick my fingers where the sun don’t shine on dead poultry.

And why is all of this relevant now, you ask?? Well, I’m working on an overall quilt. It’s a quilt made from old jeans – a tradition my grandma started when pristine bolts of fabric were a luxury. She came through the Depression, and learned not to waste the “good” parts of a worn-out pair of jeans. The first step in making an overall quilt, naturally, is to cut up the jeans. I was struck suddenly how similar cutting up the jeans was to cutting up chicken.

Depending on the size of the jeans, in the end, you get 2 breasts (the large front portion from which you can cut the “prime” large squares), 2 backs (the back pocket – bones and maybe some useful meat), 4 drumsticks (strips big enough to cut smaller, clean, no-seam squares), and a couple of wings (strips where a smaller square is possible, if you include a seam). There’s a carcass to toss (the waistband, thick seams, and often the front/back pockets). And some juicy bits that are too small for the main meal, but perfectly good for soup (seamless pieces that could be turned into a strip quilt… but that’s another entry…)

See, Dad, I was paying attention.

The whole "chicken".
The cut-up pieces.
The good bits, too small for the main meal.
The carcasses.