I’ve never understood the appeal of those plates with carefully separated compartments. I like messy, saucy, long-simmering food. I am a sucker for stews, curries, soups, rich tomato sauces, braised meats, and saucy pastas chock full of veggies. Anything that requires a good hunk of bread dragged around the inside of the bowl to clean up after it. In fact, if it were up to me there would only be one set of dishes in my cupboard: big, wide bowls.
My love of messy, meal-in-a-bowl food means that nothing pleases me less than the sight of a whole chicken. Roasting a bird is all well and good. But even when I do everything right—soak it in salt water, rub spices under the skin, put vegetables in the cavity, and roast it to the perfect temperature—I still wind up with a plain old piece of chicken on my plate and a bunch of blank space between my drumstick and everything else.
Tony loves to roast whole chickens, but he knows I’m averse. So when we bought three happy (albeit dead) free-range birds from a local farm, he promised me that two of them could go to stews. What joy is mine!
At this point, you might be thinking: “Why don’t you just buy chicken parts, Sharon?” Well, for one, whole chickens are cheaper. But I really buy them for the sheer pleasure of cutting them down into parts myself. I’m not sure why, but nothing makes me feel more powerful or accomplished in the kitchen than cutting up a whole chicken. (Not to mention, of course, the amazing stock you can make from the carcass.)
Yesterday Tony and I had a little time on our hands, so we did what we usually do with our time: cook! We let one of those tasty farmers’ market birds thaw all day on the counter, and as evening approached we went back and forth about what to do with it. I almost relented and let Tony roast the darn thing, but when I found a bunch of expiring leeks in the crisper and he pulled a good bottle of white wine out of the closet, we agreed on a Chicken, Leek and Potato Stew. We opened the wine, put on some music, and each grabbed our favorite knife. He set about chopping all the aromatics and veggies and I started breaking down the bird.
It was Mom who taught me how to cut a whole chicken into parts, and she can do it about 5 minutes flat. Though I’ve gotten pretty good at it, I love to take my time with this process—to meticulously trim all the skin and fat, to find the exact spot in the joints to cut, and to make sure each piece is perfect. When I’m done and surveying my handiwork (no matter what it looks like), I can’t help but feel proud—like I can do anything.
Our stew turned out so incredibly well. Sure, we could have used chicken parts, but the pleasure of eating it was definitely enhanced by the knowledge that we’d eliminated one more step between farm and table. Plus, cooking bone-in parts adds more body and flavor to the dish.
Cutting a chicken apart is not hard, but it requires time, patience, and confidence. On the first few tries, your chicken pieces may not look like the ones that come shrink-wrapped from the store…but just wait, they will! Here’s a great video that teaches you how to do it.
Go ahead, try it! And let me know how it goes.