Bone a whole chicken all by yourself? It's a frightening thought to many cooks, but a good sharp knife and expert guidance from a professional butcher can turn you into a boning whiz in no time. Why bother? Why not let your supermarket butcher do it for you? Because you pay more. Which is more important, your time or your money? Merle Ellis shows boning techniques on Page 25.
Not content with all of the good press they have received in recent years because their product is among the least fat- and cholesterol-laden meats available, some of the country's major chicken producers/processors are determined to gild the lily. Whether their current project has more advertising value than real nutritional merit is questionable.
Several of the country's largest chicken processors, primarily Perdue and Holly Farms, whose major market areas are east of the Mississippi River, are now peddling "skinny" chickens to their supermarket customers.
What's a skinny chicken? It may be a chicken that has been bred to produce more muscle than fat on a high-protein, low-fat diet. Or it may simply be a chicken that has the large leaf fat deposit usually found in the abdominal cavity and any other visible fat removed during processing.
And what is the consumer getting for this redesigning of the chicken? In reality, a small amount of fat reduction and probably a higher price at the market. Removing the fat involves higher labor costs, which usually are passed along to the consumer.
In this day of trade-offs, however, that may prove to be appealing to some shoppers who are willing to pay more for a product that requires absolutely no attention before being popped into the broiler or oven. For others it will simply be more advertising hyperbole that adds to their food costs.
A spokesman for Foster Farms, one of California's largest chicken processors, said they have been producing less fatty chickens on a high-protein, low-fat diet for some time because that's the way Californians like them.
About all they can do to join in this latest trend is to pull the abdominal and other excess fat before marketing the bird. Such a project is under consideration, he said, but he also pointed out that consumers who are watching their fat intake already remove the fatty skin and all visible fat from chicken before they cook it.
At Zacky Farms, another of the state's large chicken processors, marketing manager Jim Stockham said they, too, "are watching what's happening in the media" concerning this latest marketing development, but they are not marketing "skinny" chickens.
This latest trend, if indeed it does prove to be a trend, is one more step toward having someone else do everything in the kitchen except heat up the range. In families where everyone works or in small households where elaborate food preparation tends to create leftovers that often go to waste, it's easier to buy ingredients that take little preparation time.
But--and this is an important point--such convenience is getting more expensive all the time. Chicken is a good case study. It illustrates beautifully the dilemma of which is more important--your time or your money.
Is it really worth the cost to have a butcher cut up and bone a whole chicken for you? Particularly when, with just a little practice, it isn't all that difficult to do? Merle Ellis, a former butcher who writes the column "The Butcher," which appears in The Times, doesn't think so. But then he is so expert at whacking chickens apart, he makes it look as easy as breaking an egg.
"Here's where you can really save," Ellis told The Times in an interview recently. "Sometimes I go to the market and they are selling boneless chicken breasts for $3.69 a pound and they've got whole chickens on sale at 69 cents a pound.
"You can buy three chickens, take them home, cut them up and bone out the breasts. Even if you threw everything else away, you'd still save money over paying the premium price the butcher is charging for boneless chicken breasts." If you keep the rest of the chicken, including the bones, which could go into a good soup pot to make a rich chicken broth, you will have saved yourself a sizable amount of cash.
But cutting up and boning a chicken yourself does take a little time. And it takes a certain amount of skill, not to mention a modicum of knowledge about a chicken's anatomy. The most important thing it takes, however, is a good sharp knife. There is absolutely nothing as frustrating for anyone attempting to cut up and bone a chicken--or anything else--as a dull blade.
If you don't have a good steel or some other good knife sharpener, buy one. What it will do for your morale alone will be worth the price. Knives that cut cleanly and easily make happy cooks.
Once you have a good sharp knife or two, the next step is to buy a whole chicken and try your hand at cutting it up. Next will come learning how to bone the individual pieces. Don't let a few mistakes deter you. Just think of all the money you're saving.
After mastering these worthwhile kitchen procedures, you'll be ready to take on some more advanced boning tasks. On Page 25 of the Food Section, Merle Ellis demonstrates how to bone and stuff a whole chicken that will make a smashing--and surprisingly inexpensive--entree for entertaining. It is a great deal easier to prepare than it looks, providing, of course, you do have that good sharp knife.
And what do you do with all of these wonderful boned whole and cut-up chickens you have so virtuously prepared to save money?
That's the easy part. Freeze them in meal-size portions and then use them in any of the accompanying recipes. BONED ROAST CHICKEN WITH BREAD STUFFING
1 large chicken, boned for stuffing
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced carrots
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 tablespoon snipped rosemary
2 tablespoons minced sweet red pepper
2 tablespoons minced green pepper
Hot chicken broth
4 cups cubed bread
1 chicken breast, boned and flattened
2 hard-cooked eggs
1 tablespoon butter, softened, optional
Pat chicken dry and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Combine onion, celery, carrots, parsley, rosemary, red and green peppers and 1/2 cup melted butter. Add just enough chicken broth to moisten as desired. Mix thoroughly.
Place boned whole chicken on board, skin side down. Spread half of stuffing on top of meat. Place boneless chicken breast on top of stuffing and spread remaining stuffing on top. Place eggs in center of stuffing.
Bring together 2 cut sides of chicken. Fasten edges at 1-inch intervals with wood picks or skewers, then lace with string.
Turn over bird and mold back to resemble original shape. Tie up legs securely with string and tuck wings akimbo. Place chicken on rack in roasting pan and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes and remove foil. Continue baking additional 1 hour or more until golden brown, basting occasionally with drippings or 1 tablespoon melted butter. Collect drippings, if desired, to make gravy. Remove skewers and string.
To carve, remove wings, then slice crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Makes about 8 to 10 servings. CHICKEN AVOCADO SALAD
2 chicken breasts, boned
1 cup water
1 stalk celery, cut up
Bibb lettuce, optional
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
Rosemary Louis Dressing
Combine chicken breasts with water, salt and pepper to taste and celery in saucepan. Cover and simmer until breasts are done, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and chill. Use broth for other purpose.
Cut chicken breasts in 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place lettuce on serving platter (or individual salad plates) and arrange chicken, avocado, tomato and red onion slices on top. Serve with Rosemary Louis Dressing. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Rosemary Louis Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1 teaspoon horseradish
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
Combine mayonnaise, chili sauce, green pepper, green onions, horseradish, eggs and rosemary. Blend thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. CHICKEN KAMAAINA
6 chicken breast halves
6 pineapple spears
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons shortening
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup grated coconut
Bone chicken breasts, leaving skin intact. Roll each half around pineapple spear. Fasten with wood picks. Dip in coconut milk, then in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Chill.
Heat shortening and butter in skillet and add chicken. Brown chicken, then remove to shallow baking pan. Sprinkle with grated coconut and bake at 400 degrees 20 minutes or until tender. Place chicken on hot platter. Add 1 tablespoon flour to pan drippings and stir in any remaining coconut milk. Simmer 3 minutes. Spoon over baked chicken. Makes 6 servings. CHICKEN PAPRIKASH
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 (2 1/2-pound) chicken, cut up
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
Hot buttered noodles or rice
Combine 2 tablespoons flour and salt in paper bag. Add chicken pieces and shake to coat. Brown chicken in hot butter, then remove to plate.
In same pan, saute onion until tender. Stir in remaining flour, paprika and white pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add broth and cook, stirring, until thickened.
Return chicken to pan and simmer, covered, about 45 minutes or until tender. Remove chicken and arrange in baking dish. Empty sour cream into medium bowl. Gradually add hot paprika sauce, stirring constantly. Adjust seasonings. Spoon sauce over chicken. Serve over hot noodles and garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings. CRACKLING CHICKEN WITH RUM
3 whole chicken breasts, boned and skinned
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup light rum
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup Chinese pea pods
1 cup diagonally sliced celery
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Chinese noodles or hot cooked rice
Roasted cashews, optional
Cut chicken breasts into 2-inch strips. Place in bowl and add soy sauce, rum and lime juice. Toss to coat. Marinate at least 2 hours. Drain, reserving marinade.
Combine cornstarch with salt and pepper to taste and paprika. Toss chicken in cornstarch mixture to coat well.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet or wok. Add chicken pieces and fry quickly to brown. Remove and set aside. Pour marinade into skillet. Stir in pea pods and celery. Cook until tender-crisp. Return chicken to skillet, add lemon slices and heat through. Serve over noodles or rice. Garnish with cashews. Makes 4 to 6 servings. POACHED CHICKEN BREASTS WITH HERB MOUSSELINE SAUCE
4 whole chicken breasts, boned and skinned
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup water
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs (tarragon, basil, savory, chervil, parsley)
Place chicken breasts in saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Add wine and water. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to boil. Poach over low heat about 10 minutes.
In stainless-steel double boiler, combine egg yolks with cream and 1/4 cup cooking liquid from chicken. Over boiling water, stir vigorously with wire whisk until sauce is thick and creamy. Add mixed herbs and adjust taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place drained chicken breasts on platter and cover with sauce. Makes 4 servings. CHICKEN BREASTS WITH ARTICHOKES
4 chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 (6-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons pine nuts or slivered almonds
1 teaspoon butter or margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
Bone chicken, if desired. Combine flour, salt, paprika and pepper. Roll chicken in flour mixture to coat very lightly, shaking off excess.
Spoon 2 tablespoons oil from top of artichokes into skillet and heat. Place chicken breasts, skin side down, in pan. Brown slowly over moderate heat, turning to brown all sides. Add onion when chicken is almost browned. Spoon off any excess fat. Add wine, heat to boiling, then cover. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is tender.
Saute pine nuts in butter until lightly browned. Set aside. Add artichokes to chicken. Mix cornstarch with remaining marinade, then gently stir into liquid in skillet. Simmer 1 minute until slightly thickened. Remove chicken and artichokes to serving dish. Spoon liquid over chicken and sprinkle with toasted nuts. Makes 4 servings.