Knowing how to carve a whole chicken is a useful kitchen skill. But, well, there is nothing wrong in digging into a juicy roast chicken just the way everyone wishes, without worrying about the formalities every once in a while.
However, when it comes to hosting a proper sit-down dinner or simply wanting to have an organized meal, carving the chicken as it should be is very important. It also helps you get the most out of the chicken, keeping food waste to a minimum. And it is an erroneous idea that carving a chicken is something that only professionals are good at. Even home cooks can learn how to carve a chicken with ease. With some practice and patience, you will present a strikingly beautiful platter with precise cuts of meat for everyone.
The first thing to remember is that you should be confident about handling the chicken. Whether it’s a roast or a spatchcock, you should be able to cut the meat without feeling jittery about it. Once you are mentally prepared, the rest is just a set of skills you need to learn. So here is what you need to get started and accomplish the feat.
Prepping up for Carving Your Chicken
Well, you have your whole chicken in front of you. It could be a delicious rotisserie chicken you purchased or a sumptuous roast you cooked yourself. Or maybe it’s the holidays, and you have a delectable Dutch Oven Roast or a tasty yet simple Smoked Chicken. Here are some of the other tools you would need.
#1. Cutting Board
A cutting board is not essential because it provides a stable base for carving your chicken. It is also much easier to clean. You don’t want the juice of the chicken dripping all over the counter, which could take quite a while to clean up.
You can place the cutting board on a damp towel to prevent it from sliding away when you start carving.
#2. Carving Knife
This is an essential tool for carving your chicken. A sharp chef’s knife or a carving knife is a must.
Make sure the knife is sharp enough. A dull knife will make it difficult to cut through the meat and tissue and lead to multiple cuts and incisions that will leave the meat looking torn and hacked. For even clean cuts, a sharp knife is a must.
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#3. Carving Fork
Many users underestimate the carving fork. Yes, using your hands is fine. But if you are new to carving chicken, you don’t want your fingers close to the blade of that sharp knife on which you will be applying sufficient pressure to cut through the meat. A carving fork lets you hold the chicken in place without risking your fingers.
Opt for a two-pronged fork with a medium-long handle to hold the chicken through the bones.
#4. Paper Towels
This is a basic requirement. Have napkins or paper towels handy to clean up the board or any spilled juices once you are done.
#5. A Bowl
This might seem unnecessary at first, but you will be amazed at how much juice starts dripping onto your chopping board? Why let all that gorgeous juice go to waste? Instead, tilt your board and collect the juices in a bowl. Use it as a base for a sauce or rich gravy to go with your chicken. All that flavor will spruce up your dish.
Allow your chicken to rest for fifteen minutes or so after removing it from the heat source. This results in an even distribution of juices around the chicken and tastier dishes.
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Sections of a Whole Chicken
There are three main sections in a whole chicken, giving you three distinct areas to cut through.
#1. Leg and Thigh
This is the lower part of the chicken’s body. Ideally, it would be best to separate them into chunks and divide them further.
You need to separate the two wings on either side of the chicken. It can be difficult for newbies to differentiate between the whole wing and just the wingette. You have to go nice and deep to cut through the entire wing.
The meatiest part of the chicken, the breast, remains last. You can slice it up any way you want once you have separated it from the body.
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Steps of Carving Up a Whole Chicken
Once you start carving chicken regularly, you will soon become accustomed to the pattern and follow the steps instinctively. Here is a guide for beginners to start with.
Step 1: Separating the Leg and the Body
You need to identify the joints at first for successfully cutting through the chicken. You need to have a clear look at the joint to do that.
First, you need to cut through the skin that separates the leg and the body. Once you cut through the skin, you will notice a hollow gap and see where the legs join the rest of the body.
Next, position the chicken with the wings facing away from you and the legs closest to you. Use your fork to hold the chicken in place by placing it on the breastbone between the two breasts. Next, you will use your knife to carefully cut through the gap, separating the leg from the body entirely.
If any juices start seeping right from the first incision, use paper towels to clean it up. You don’t want your view obstructed while cutting.
Repeat the procedure on the other side if you cut off each leg separately.
Step 2: Remove the Drumstick and Thigh
With a clear view of the joint, you will be able to remove the drumstick and the thigh in one piece. After the first cut, pull away from the leg from the chicken’s body to widen the gap. That will expose the hip joint and pierce it with your knife to mark the area. Keep cutting deeper to sever the joint, and you will be able to remove the leg in one piece.
At this point, if you have difficulty understanding where the joint is, use your fingers to wriggle the leg. If you locate the joint correctly, you will automatically find a niche that will make it easier to cut through.
Step 3: Separating the Thigh from the Drumstick
Now that you have successfully removed the leg, you can cut off the thigh from the drumstick. To do that, press down the fork into the thigh meat lightly to hold it in place. Now cut along the curve of the drumstick till the knife touches the joint. Finally, apply pressure on the joint to sever the thigh from the drumstick, and you will get two separate pieces.
Repeat the process on the other leg.
It might be a little difficult at first to separate the thigh from the drumstick neatly. If you are unsure about the joint, flip the leg over, and you can see the two sections coming together. You can also hold the drumstick away from the thigh, exposing the joint further.
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Step 4: Cutting the Breast Meat
To cut the breast meat efficiently, first try to loosen the base of the breast to make it easier to separate it from the body. To do so, position your fork on the breastbone and start by cutting off the left breast. You should place the knife above the wing and make a long cut. The cut should be clean, extending from the top of the wing till the point where the leg meets the breast.
Step 5: Removing the Breastbone
Once the breast is loose enough, removing the breastbone is easy. Place the fork on the right breast and cut vertically down the breastbone of the left. Once you have made a clean cut along the entire length, keep moving downward underneath your breast. It will be like scooping a piece out; an angled cut that will separate the meat from the body. Once you have the breast off neatly, you can slice it up diagonally for a spectacular presentation.
Repeat on the breastbone of the other side, and you should have two neat breast meat pieces.
Step 6: Removing the Wings
All that is left now on the body are the wings, which is the final step. Gently pull the wing away from the body, and you will notice the joint. Cut through it neatly. Then you may further remove the wing tip by cutting the joint between the tip and the drumette as it does not have much meat. Or you could leave them on.
Step 7: Plating
Now you have clear chunks of meat in front of you. Opt for a large tray and place the pieces as you like, arranging them so that the crispy skin gets all the love and attention it deserves. Serve it with your favorite sauce or a bowl of gravy, or an assortment of vegetables or mashed potatoes. Drizzle some juices on top and add some rock salt, herbs and freshly ground black pepper for added taste and aroma. And you are done!
Now you just have the bones in front of you, with probably some strips of meat sticking to it. Use it later to simmer in gravy or make homemade stock that you freeze for later use. As for the smaller bits and pieces, use them to make cold chicken salad or chicken coleslaw. There are so many ideas you will come across with chicken leftovers.
You can never go wrong with a chicken dish. There is something very warm and wholesome about an entire chicken that the family and friends can enjoy together. Be it the holidays or an intimate family dinner, those glorious pieces of chicken are just what you need at the end of a stressful day.