Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

Knife Skills: How To Break Down A Chicken

The first step to great food is great knife skills. Check out more Knife Skills this way!

[Video: Jessica Leibowitz]

If you've been following knife skills, you may be thinking, "Wait a minute, we've seen this all before!" And you're right. But this time we've upgraded technology and put it in video. Enjoy!

If there's one knife skill that can save you money and make you look cool at the same time, it's breaking down a chicken. Consider that boneless breasts often cost around three times more than whole chicken does.

So for the same price as a two-pack of breasts, you can buy a whole chicken, which comes with those same breasts, plus two legs, and a back. And wait for it—if you're really lucky, you'll get a free liver, heart, and gizzard thrown in to sweeten the deal! I know girls (named Chichi) who'd get the whole chicken just to get her hands on some of those delicious gizzards!

Of course, if you don't know how to break the chicken down, all this is not too useful. That's where this guide comes in. Just follow the video, and you'll be breaking down chickens like the pros.

Shopping and Storage

Just two quick tips here:

  • Buy air-chilled chickens. Air-chilled chickens like those from Bell and Evans and several other "premium" brands are chilled with cold air after slaughter rather than being dumped into an ice bath like the mass-market brands. This means that they come to the market with less retained water. Not only does this give you a better value (since you're not paying for water weight), but more importantly, you get more concentrated flavor.
  • Avoid kosher birds. Kosher birds have been heavily salted before packaging in order to remove excess liquid. While in some cases, this is desirable—such as when you are roasting it—in other cases, the excess salt can ruin a recipe. A braised chicken recipe where the braising liquid is subsequently reduced can get far too salty from the excess salt within the chicken. It also limits your stock-making ability, since a salty stock cannot be reduced. You're better off buying a regular bird and salting or brining it yourself if the recipe calls for it.

As for all your other options, I personally prefer to pay the extra money for premium brands of free range or specialty heirloom breeds because of the improved flavor they offer. There's not much worse than bad chicken. Maybe bad margaritas, but that's about it.

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