One lesson (of many!) I’ve been grateful to learn from Mum has been how to potion a chicken. Not only is it generally cheaper to buy a whole chicken and portion it yourself but it also gives you bits that you wouldn’t generally buy, such as the carcass which is perfect for creating a delicious chicken broth or stock.
Breaking up your own chicken can also be more environmentally friendly as it cuts down on packaging as well as potential ‘food miles’. If you plan right you can generally get up to four meals from a single chicken (depending on how many people you’re feeding!). A whole, portioned chicken is also great when you’re making a large batch of a tasty indian curry or Tandoori Chicken, you have all of the parts of a chicken to choose from, not only breast or legs. Having all of the parts of the chicken also makes this simple technique a great one to learn as it is perfect for summer entertaining and BBQs, when your catering for many different people who may have different preferences of which part of the chicken they like best (legs and thighs for me, wings are a bonus!).
It might seem a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before but it is actually really simple, much easier in-fact that portioning a whole, cooked chicken (and makes for much less finger burning) which I’m sure many people have done before. If you’ve never tried to portion a whole chicken definitely give this a go and learn something new today!
Portioning a chicken this way will give you 2x maryland pieces – thighs and legs (although you can seperate if you like), 2x wings, 2x boneless breasts and the carcass. The only thing you really need to know is some very basic anatomy and how to find the joints in the bird that act as ‘cutting’ points on the chicken. A sharp, slender knife is easiest so if you don’t have a fancy ‘boning’ knife don’t fret – a pairing or carving knife are fine so long as they are sharp. A chefs knife also works well if you don’t have any others, but the skinnier the blade the easier it is to slide between the joints.
Lay your chicken out a clean chopping board, breast side up. Ensure any elastic or twine holding the legs is removed. If your chicken has been in the fridge or has recently been defrosted it could probably use a pat-dry with a paper towel as well as this will make it easier to grip and less prone to sliding on the chopping board as you cut, making things much safer!
The first cut to the chicken is a very simple one, hold one of the legs and run your knife down the seam where the thigh meets the chicken’s body cavity, this is just a shallow cut, only slicing the thin skin membrane. Repeat this on the other side of the chicken.
This is where some people may get a bit squeamish, persevere though, it’s not that bad. Hold the chicken drumstick and push it downwards towards your chipping board whilst holding the top of the chicken firmly so it does not lift off the board. The aim is to ‘pop’ the joint between the thigh and the body. You’ll know when you’ve done this correctly as the joint is now somewhat ‘pulled away’ from the rest of the body and the leg will hang limp. Use your knife and slide it into the joint with it angled slightly towards the body of the chicken, slice through the joint where the bone meets the body – repeat with the other leg.
You’ve now got two ‘Maryland’ pieces which are delicious for roasting, poaching, bbqing and many other recipes. You can keep them as they are or easily separate the thighs from the drumsticks in a similar manner, by locating the seam between the drumstick and thigh and slicing through it. There will be a thin seam of fat between the two joints, it’s just a matter of finding where that is and running your knife down through the joint to separate the pieces.
Similar to what is done with separating the thigh and drumstick from the body we now need to ‘pop’ the wing joint. Do this on both sides and slice the wing off of the chicken. Don’t be afraid to move the chicken around and/or flip it over if you find it easier to locate and slice through the joint by doing so!
As with the leg/thigh, you can separate the wingtips and the drumettes depending on what your using them for by first ‘popping’ and then firmly slicing between the wing joints.
This step is where we separate the breasts from the carcass using a few large, long and some-what delicate slices. If you’ve ever one this on a cooked, roasted chicken it’ll be quite familiar. This step can be a little daunting and a little difficult the first few times, but once you know how to do this it really is quite simple.
Place the chicken in front of you with the ‘leg’ section facing you, which means the ‘wishbone’ of the chicken is furthest from you. Firmly run your finger down the centre of the chicken to locate the cartilage of the chicken’s beast bone – again this will be familiar to you if you’ve done this with a cooked chicken.
Run your knife down one side of the breast bone, keeping it as close to the bone as possible, without slicing it, this is where a sharp knife helps. As your slicing the breast away from the carcass gently peel back the breast, making long, clean slicing motions with your knife until the breast is free.
The second side is a little more tricky, only because there is less of the chicken to left on the carcass, other than that it isn’t so difficult or different to removing the first breast.
You can flip over the breast (skin-side down on the chopping board) and remove the tenderloins if you wish if you like, but again – it’ll depend on how you plan on cooking them. Tenderloins do make excellent chicken nuggets or are great marinated, skewered and grilled.
That is pretty much all there is to it! One chicken perfectly portioned. The left over carcass makes great stock/soup/broth. If you’re not planning on cooking all of the portions up straight away just pop them into zip lock bags and place into the freezer.
One portioned You can also use your knife to remove the skin from the meat, but nothing beats great, crispy skin!
Remember, when preparing raw chicken (and any meat) always remember to thoroughly rinse down any equipment used, including the chopping board. Always ditch the packaging straight away and wash your hands with antibacterial soap once you’ve finished handling the meat – before you start fondling other kitchen items such as door and draw handles. Be sure not to forget to rise your taps handle as well which you may have touched with raw meat hands prior to cleaning them.