Quartering a Chicken
Earlier this year I put on my big girl pants and quartered a chicken. Ben and I did it together, for moral support. It was our first time, after all. It takes guts to quarter a chicken when you're used to buying it all sectioned out into familiar packages. But that doesn't fit into my new way of thinking, of wanting to use more of the animals I buy. Not wasting, but honouring and savouring. Whenever I can, I am insisting on purchasing organic and free-range so I know my food is the most nutritious and sustainably farmed. This relates to vegetables and also meat.
I make the conscious decision to eat meat, and so it's important to me that I make the most of these animal I eat. There is so much goodness to come from "scraps" of meat. Homemade stock, for one, from which you can make soup, pasta sauces, risotto, a bath for dumplings... I get excited just thinking of the possibilities. I also like to skim the fat off my cooled soup, and reserve this for sauteeing vegetables or coating potatoes, which will be baked (and beautifully so). I don't use chicken fat every day, rather I favour olive oil (and extra virgin for drizzling). But I believe the fat from an organic, well-raised and well-nourished bird to be a source of goodness and as someone who consumes very little refined, highly processed or commercially fried foods I am just super cool with eating quality chicken fat.
But back to quartering this bird...
In January we had our friends, Pete and Sarah, over to stay. It was Australia Day. Ben and I decided on which recipe to cook, an Ottolenghi gem from Jerusalem involving chicken and rice and onion and spice. The ingredients called for "1 chicken, quartered". It was time. We followed this instructional video and it was a huge success, far easier than I had anticipated. And since this day we have quartered a few birds, every time using the scraps to make beautiful stock and each time feeling more connected to our food. I've been favouring my local butcher for supplying organic free, range birds and I encourage you to use this guide to find links to farms or butchers in your area who stock chickens raised sustainably (Milawa Free Range Poultry is where I first started). The price is higher, yes, but in eating this way you'll be encouraged to consume meat less frequently and more mindfully. You get many meals from this bird and the nutritional content and taste is supreme.
Quartering a Chicken
Now, I don't profess to being a trained butcher. This is very much a learning process for me. But here's what I did, using this video as a guide. I hope you find this post encouraging, in all its raw, graphic glory. We really should know how to handle a whole bird if we're going to eat it, right? Right.
1. Place the chicken with the breasts facing upwards.
2. To remove the wishbone, cut a "v" along the top of the breast, just beneath the neck. Then, using your hands remove the wishbone.
3. I like to separate the wing and the tip from the drumette and save it for a stock.
4. Turn the chicken breast-side down on the chopping board, then score the back of the chook with a 0.5cm slit just above the thighs. This will help later on when separating the thighs from the breast pieces.
5. Turn the chicken on to one of its sides. Gently pull the drumstick so you can easily slice the skin between the leg and thigh of the chook, starting with the skin closest to the end of the drumstick. Continue slicing around the leg so the thigh and drumstick are closer to becoming a separate quarter. Using your hands, push the joint between the thigh and the backbone outwards so that it pops out. Then, cut the thigh quarter from the rest of the chook, guiding your blade along the backbone to ensure you keep as much of the meat on the thigh. Repeat this step on the other side and place the two thigh quarters aside.
6. Place the chook with the breasts facing upwards. Then, using your hands, break off and remove the lower portion of the back (you may need to use your knife).
7. We now want to remove the backbone. With the breasts still facing upwards, place your knife into the cavity and cut through the ribs as close to backbone as possible. Remove the backbone and set aside for stock.
8. Place the chook so its breasts are downward facing and gently score the cartilage that separates the two breasts. Using your hands, break open the rib cage and pull out the cartilage. You may need to make tiny incisions with your knife to help with this step. Set the cartilage aside for stock.
9. Slice down the middle of the two breasts to separate them. Then trim any excess skin or fat from the chook and add this to your container with the wings - save this goodness for stock!
And you're done.
Chicken with Caramelised Onion and Cardamom Rice (recipe link)
Ottolenghi's Jerusalem is a book that continues to inspire, and this chicken and rice dish has fast become a favourite in our house. The caramelised onions are a sure thing. This dish is fragrant and textured, and you know how chicken thigh usually wins the game in terms of moist meat? Well, this recipe creates the most incredible, juicy breast, it's outrageous. I recommend serving Ottolenghi's baked chermoula eggplant alongside the spiced rice, with greek yoghurt and maybe some green beans. We felt proud knowing we'd quartered the chicken ourselves.