Breaking Down a Chicken

For a very long time I have been meaning to start buying whole chickens, rather than the boneless skinless breasts that make up the chicken portion of my diet. But every time I've been at the meat counter, I talk myself out of it. The already-cut breasts are just so easy. But, I couldn't avoid it any longer. This week I took the plunge and am enjoying the many benefits of buying whole chicken, including financial as well as nutritional benefits.

So, before I get into my first experience of hacking up a chicken carcass, let me go over all the positives of making this choice. I decided back in February that I would never ever again buy meat that came from factory-raised animals. I can't even look at the stuff without getting sick to my stomach, let alone eat it. I'm responsible for my choices and to choose to buy factory-raised animals would be implicitly condoning the horrendous treatment of those animals as well as the workers who handle them. That is something that I just will no longer do. So, instead of paying $2 a pound for gross chicken, I started paying $7 a pound for chicken breasts from local farmers. I made this work by just eating less chicken. And this carried on for about 7 months. I started exploring the option of buying whole chickens when I became interested in including more whole foods in my diet. I believe that the only reason that I have ever "preferred" chicken breasts was that I had been conditioned to do so. It's the only thing that I had ever been served. All my cookbooks have recipes that only use the breast. Aside from the occasional drumstick, it's all I've ever known. But, a chicken has many other edible parts and it's not only thrifty to include them in my diet, I think it's nutritionally necessary. So, I started looking and found out that while I had been paying $7 a pound for breast meat, a whole chicken (that is still organic and local and all those other wonderful things) is $3.50 a pound. Wow. The whole chicken I just bought cost me $12. If $7 can be attributed to what I would have paid for just the breast, that extra $5 bought me thighs, drumsticks, wings, organ meat, and a carcass out of which I can make incredibly nutritious soup stock. How could I say no?

My husband was incredibly hesitant. He laughed when I brought it home and shrugged in that way that says, "as long as you don't expect me to help, you just go right ahead!" But as soon as I had the thing out on the cutting board and was stumbling my way through the process, his interest was totally piqued and is now completely on board (especially after I revealed the price difference). So, I tried to follow a diagram and I watched a how-to video online, but I still did a total hack job on that bird. I left too much meat on the carcass and didn't get nice clean cuts on the breasts or the thighs, but I foresee many opportunities to practice and improve. That night, the breasts (skin and all) became part of a Jamaican curry and tomorrow night the thighs and legs will get basted in homemade chili sauce and grilled. Now I just need to figure out what to do with the heart and the liver.

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