André Baranowski
After the chicken is broken down, Matt Accarrino gets to work on these five dishes to use up every last poultry piece.
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Chicken Butchering Demo

Matthew Accarrino - July/August 2011

Using all parts of an animal is a pillar of the culinary sensibility that wastes not, wants not. That’s nothing new; in one form or another, charcuterie and offal cookery developed from a nearly universal need to use everything at hand. As chef at SPQR in San Francisco, when you look for raw materials at their best, it often means you’ll be procuring meat or fish whole. Then you break it down into its many parts and figure out how best to cook and present them. How this use-it-all ethos applies to something as common as a chicken is the meat of this demo, with five dishes springing from one bird. But first, a distinct way of butchering a chicken to get enough out of it for those five dishes.

Step-by-step technique of butchering a chicken:

To begin, place a chicken on a cutting board; place three trays on a work surface; label them #1 confit, #2 meat/neck skin, #3 bones.

Remove the innards and any excess fat pieces from around the cavity; set aside on tray #2. Rinse the chicken; pat dry with paper towels. Using shears, cut just below where the neck begins, to remove the head. Cut the neck just above the breast and pull the neck bone out from the skin, taking care to leave the tube of neck skin intact. Scrape away any excess fat from the neck skin; place the fat on tray #2. Set the neck bone aside on tray #1 and the skin on #2. Using shears, cut the wing tips off and place on #3. Cut off the feet just above the knuckle (leaving the knuckle attached to the feet) and place on #3 (A).

Find the wishbone at the opening to the breast; using a knife, scrape the wishbone on each side to expose it; cut down to release the wishbone on each side, following the bone from both sides to the tip with the point of your knife and release at the center. Place the wishbone on #3. Flip the chicken so that the breast meat is facing down with the bird facing away from you on the board. Cut around the wing joints at the shoulder to remove the wings entirely (B); using shears, sever the joints in the wings to create two pieces from each wing; set aside on #1. Cut down the back from the neck to the tail; use the tip of the knife to follow the bones around the carcass to release the back meat (C); continue along each side until you reach the leg portion of the bird. Carefully release the legs, taking care to remove the chicken oysters from the bone; set on tray #2; continue through the leg joints to the tail.

Return to the breasts; continue following the rib cage on each side with the knife all the way up to the keel bone at the tip of the breast; follow the ridge along the top of the keel bone; cut to release the carcass from the meat (D); place the carcass in #3. Return to the chicken meat, removing just the meat and leaving the skin intact; set aside on #2. Pull the legs away from the skin, using a knife if necessary, and leaving the skin intact (E); place the legs on #1. Using the tip of the knife, make a slit in the chicken tenders, trimming away the line of silver skin from each side; place on #3. Remove the breasts from the skin, taking care to leave the skin in one piece. Place the breasts on the far side of the cutting board; you will return to them in a minute. Lay the skin out flat; carefully scrape away any pockets of fat attached to the skin (F); place the fat on #2. Fold the skin and place on #2 as well. Returning to the breasts, pull away the chicken tenders; trim the edges of the breasts to form rectangles of even thickness weighing about four ounces each. Place all of the trimmed meat & rectangles of breast meat on #2. Using a cleaver, cut the carcass into one- to two-inch pieces; place on #3.

At this point, you should have three trays of chicken: #1: neck bone, wing pieces, skinless legs, gizzards; #2: innards (liver, heart), neck skin tube, oysters, fat, breast rectangles, meat trim, large piece of chicken skin; #3: wing tips, feet, wish bone, carcass, silver skin from tenders (G).

Click top image to view dishes.

Toss chicken bones (feet, wishbone, carcass, wing tips, silver skin) with olive oil and salt; roast until brown. Prepare a stock with the roasted bones and chicken broth or water; clarify with dried porcini, leek trimmings from the affumicato dish (see below), mirepoix, parsley stems (from the affumicato dish), thyme, egg whites (from the eggs in this dish), ground chicken (from the meat trimmings). Garnish with steamed egg yolk noodles seasoned with truffle oil and morel mushrooms stuffed with chicken sausage (chicken meat ground with the excess fat, egg yolk, crèma fresca, soffritto, fennel seeds, white pepper, parsley, and sage), as well as peas, carrots, baby artichokes, and mint oil.

Cure the whole chicken skin, chicken legs, wings, gizzards, and neck skin with salt; confit in duck fat. Trim and lay out chicken skin (reserve trimmings for the affumicato dish). Pick thigh meat; press over the skin; reserve in refrigerator. Once chilled, cut the pressed meat into blocks; pan-roast skin side down to crisp the skin. Serve with sautéed chicken oysters, sweet onion puree (made with Arborio rice, butter, and olive oil), asparagus wrapped in lentil fritter batter and fried; fried onion ash (made from the onion tops burned in the oven, pulverized, and mixed with salt and citric acid), and onion blossoms.

The chicken drumstick meat cooked for the gamba dish is smoked over apple wood (with 00 flour smoked at the same time for the pasta). Pick the meat from the bone. Mix the smoked 00 flour with whole-wheat flour, water, egg, and salt; make into trofie pasta (a Ligurian thin corkscrew-shaped pasta classically used for pesto); dress with a ragù made from the smoked chicken, savoy cabbage, leek, and parsley; garnish with gratings of smoked goat cheese and chicken skin pan grattato (chicken skin trimmings from the gamba dish are fried in the confit fat, crushed, and mixed into bread crumbs pan-toasted with confit fat and seasoned with grated Parmesan and lemon zest).

Poach the chicken breast pieces in buttermilk. Prepare a pureed chicken liver sauce with Marsala wine and reduced chicken stock, finished with black pepper. Serve with a pumpernickel bread dumpling seasoned with sage, garlic, and soffritto that’s first poached and then sautéed in brown butter with sage leaves. Garnish with a sautéed rosemary skewer of chicken heart, wild wood sorrel, and berries.

Stuff the cured tube of neck skin with the sausage mixture made in the consommé recipe (see above) that’s been embellished with picked chicken confit from the neck bone, diced confited chicken gizzard, diced cured pork fatback, pistachios, and dates. Envelop with plastic wrap; tie at both ends; poach to set filling; roast. To serve, slice; place on a plate with fried confit chicken wing pieces tossed with honey, roasted baby carrots, carrot puree, shaved pickled carrots, chickpea fritters, radishes, and dill yogurt; finish with a southern Italian “curry”—unground vadouvan spices.