Issue 28

Start to Finish: One Bird

Start to Finish: One Bird

Chicken may be the most democratic of all foods. It transcends ethnicity, enjoys a rare liberty from most religious taboos, is inoffensively mild flavored, is available year-round in almost every corner of the world and, quite frankly, can be downright delicious when prepared properly.

Why then, do many cooks tremble at the site of a whole bird? We tremble, because we are programmed to. It is far better for a chicken producer to sell us boneless skinless breasts at $5.99 per pound than for us to buy the whole bird for that price and fabricate it ourselves.

The money The money in the game of conventional poultry production is powerful. It drives us to forget that chickens are whole animals who give their lives for our sustenance and deserve our total respect – especially in the kitchen and dining room. The last time I had a fast food chicken product, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and wept. I immediately called my doctor and asked for a prescription of Rogaine, wiped the tears from my face, and began to pity the poor bird that gave its life for this. An animal fought its way into the world, scratched out an existence, and died swiftly, only to ultimately wind up as a thoughtless, or perhaps over-thought, puree. Breaded and bound in a factory somewhere half a nation away, and served to me at the speed of light at 1:15 in the morning as I trudged home from another night paying attention to the foods that other people eat. I started crying again. Poor birds.

They give so much to us and all I could offer was the $1.07 in change from the floor of my car. I decided to do more for my birds.

5 Strategies for Getting the Most Out of a Bird:

Buy Fresh and Local  •  Buy Whole  •  Handle Properly  • Cook Well  • Share

 

Buy Fresh and Local

Find a producer through the Nebraska Food Cooperative at www.nebraskafood.org or in the annual guide published by Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska. You can also just shake hands with someone at the farmer’s market and presto, you have a source. It is a bit more complicated if you are trying to find a supplier in the restaurant sense of the word, but not too much more. The benefits of buying from a local producer are plenty, most of which center around quality and some of which are economic or ecological in nature.

In relation to quality, most local guys are small time. This means that they manage their own operations start to finish. They can’t water chill – and therefore waterlog – their birds after slaughter as the equipment is costly and cumbersome. They can’t afford the mechanical separation machines that large operations have, they can’t feed an uber-controlled diet to their animals because they aren’t confined. There are so many positives to smaller-time chicken production that if explored, I would be mistaken for lobbyist for the Independent Chicken Producers of America Coalition – an organization that despite its profound-yet-oxymoronic name quite possibly doesn’t exist at all.

In the end, the decision to go local based on quality is pretty simple. Buy a conventional whole bird from the mega-supermercado, and pick one up from Wohlner’s on Leavenworth. At both stores, ask when your bird was last alive. At Wohlner’s, they may not know the answer off the top of their head, but they are one conversation away from knowing. Their producer is their delivery man. And it is feasible, if not likely, that he will be standing behind the counter when you arrive for this fun little exam. Then, at the thirty-foot ceiling “super” store the response will be a little different. My guess is the young clerk will run away from you as fast as possible, find himself in a break room somewhere laughing with his pimply friends that there is this bald guy out there that thinks the chicken used to be alive!
The next critical step in this journey is to put these two newly acquired birds on the counter next to each other. First smell the packages as you open them. Notice the water content of each bag. I’ll show you a picture.

If I have to go on I will. No? O.K. good. Buy Local. The guy’s name delivering the birds at Wohlner’s, and to Sage Student Bistro, where I work my day/night job, is Dean Dvorak. With his wife, Dean owns and runs Plum Creek Farms in Burchard, Nebraska. He is the most pleasantest chicken producer I know. (My apologies to the other five chicken producers that I know. You are all very pleasant, just slightly less pleasant than Dean.)

Buy Whole

The whole bird has been handled less than its subsequent parts and has therefore spent less of its life in the temperature danger zone where bacteria thrive. I guess I meant to say it has spent less of its death but that sounds morbid. In addition to some potential safety benefit, you get all of the parts! And all of the parts mean that there is more to cook and therefore more to eat! Without the neck and back, your stock would not be as rich. Without the rib cage under the breast meat, roasting is a worthless endeavor. Without the liver, you can’t make pâté. Without the leg and thigh still attached, you can’t get the oyster. Without the skin, you don’t have the skin, and then you may as well be a vegetarian. (If there are any vegetarians that have stayed with us this far through an article about eating dead animals, congratulations and I’m sorry for that last comment. Buying whole however means that you need to know where you are going.)

Handle Properly

Keeping the home fridge as safe as a commercial fridge is a bit difficult. There is way more stuff per cubic inch, and way less oversight. There are, thankfully, less hands normally going in and out of the fridge at home. (My mother doesn’t believe this as she watched my brother and I as we “fanned” the door 30-40 times in the hour preceding our childhood dinners but I am a grown-up now and I have read a study. I also watch my 2 ½ year-old open and close the freezer door 15 times a minute to check and see if the popsicles have magically appeared, so I can sympathize with my mother’s sentiment.) Ultimately though, maintaining the temperature in the fridge is of critical importance to the safety and palatability of the foods contained therein. So keep on nagging your kids to keep the door closed. Also, in the fridge, chicken must be stored in its proper place, under or at least out of contact with ready-to-eat foods. Store in a container with a tight fitting lid or wrapped tightly in plastic rather than just wrapped in plastic or in its as-purchased container. Storing chicken and other protein items in the back of the fridge is also a good practice as the temperature there does not fluctuate as easily as it does in closer proximity to the door, especially the non-hinged side of the door.

10 Simple Rules for Safety:

1 Do One Thing At A Time
2 Chill Quickly
3 Thaw Slowly
4 Spend As Little Time In the TDZ as Possible
5 Reheat Thoroughly
6 Store Separately
7 Use Quickly
8 Sharp Knife And Secure Board
9 Clean Between Tasks
10 If It Smells Bad It Is Bad

Chicken Stock Tips

• Blanch the bones starting in cold water then pour off the water
• Simmer blanched bones in rewash
• Any time there is a scum on the top of the water, skim it off
• Never stir, but you can press down
• Roasted bones and mire poix = deeper flavor and color
• Not roasted = cleaner more subtle flavor
• Cut the carcass into smaller pieces
• Always start in cold water
• Salt the stock toward the end of simmering
• Always use a non-reactive pan
• Set the pot askew to the burner to create a more focused current
• Charred onion creates clarity and deepens the color
• Parsley stems and other aromatics are frequently added
• Use a chill stick (or a poly bag with ice cubes) to help cool rapidly
• Save the fat from the top of the chilled stock to sauté
• Ladle the simmered stock out of the pot, do not “dump”
• Strain at least 2x-at ladling through a chinois and after reheating through cheesecloth
• Boiling the stock will create cloudiness – keep under 200°F
• Better ingredients make better stock
• Don’t include the gizzards or other organ meats
• Keep mire poix large and add it later in the simmering process
• Make stock from never-frozen bones
• Use within 3-4 days or freeze quickly in small batches
• Make a rewash from the “spent” bones and freeze to use when making the next batch of stock

Fabrication

One chicken can supply you up to 12 individual pieces of chicken. A good size bird can easily feed a family of four for two meals, one where the protein takes center stage and one where it is in a significant supporting role. Perhaps so significant it may be better referred to as a co-star or a member of an ensemble cast rather than best supporting. (Think Kramer in Seinfeld rather than Newman.) You can roast the whole bird one night for dinner with mashed potatoes and peas, and easily turn the carcass and leftovers into killer chicken soup the next day.

[See the accompanying demonstration below on Chicken Fabrication.]

Don’t feel bad when your first one looks a little like you did it blindfolded. It takes a couple to times to get good. And after about 12 you’ll be excited about buying the whole bird and saving a little green. And perhaps toying with the blindfold idea. (Which Metro’s and Food & Spirits Magazine’s lawyers assure me I am NOT recommending.)

Preparation

In Escoffier’s Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, published many moons ago, there are over 60 pages and about 600 different preparations of chicken described. It is because of chicken’s sturdy yet mild flavor profile that such a cacophony is possible. One whole bird gives you a Bubba Gump like list of possibilities. Off the top of my head:
Buffalo Wings
BBQ Wings
Braised Wings
Chicken and Dumplings
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Enchiladas
Rotisserie Chicken
Chicken Parmesan
Roasted Chicken
Marinated Carcasses
Chicken Sandwich
Fried Chicken
Chicken Fried Chicken
Chicken Marsala
Chicken Picatta
Chicken Kiev
Arroz Con Pollo
Chicken Mole
Chicken Gumbo
Chicken Kebab…

Share

One of the great joys of endeavor is the sharing and subsequent rehash that accompanies the event. Don’t travel down this path alone! Talk a friend or your spouse into the kitchen with you to try their hand at cutting one up. Invite family over and let them laugh and enjoy your mangled mess. Then send them home with a bird to try it themselves. The table, and the food we eat from it, has more power to re-center our lives around each other and the earth than any other thing. Certainly more than any other piece of furniture.

Chicken Fabrication

1 MEP  (get your supplies)
2 Place a damp towel under cutting board
3 Remove the wishbone
4 Remove the wing starting at the blade meat
5 Avoid the breast as you come through the joint
6 Separate the wings
7 Cut between the leg and breast
8 Pop the thigh bone out of the hip socket
9 Start your cut under the thigh bone
10 Cut towards the tail bone
11 Peel out the oyster*
12 Separate the leg and thigh
13 Stand up the breast
14 Cut out back bone
15 Remove keel bone
16 Filet rib bones from breast meat
17 Remove the tender
18 Remove tendon from tender
19 12 pieces of chicken
20 Save carcass, bones and trim for stock

Brian O'Malley

Brian O'Malley

Brian O’Malley is a chef instructor at Metropolitan Community College’s
Institute for the Culinary Arts. A graduate from New England Culinary Institute and a member of the American Culinary Federation, O’Malley worked as the chef/owner of Spread. He was a manager/instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, head chef at Vanilia in Santorini, Greece, and BackNine Grille, assistant food and beverage manager at the Champion’s Club and opening chef at BOJO. Brian O’Malley can usually be found in MCC’s kitchens, teaching, creating works of culinary genius or debating the perils of out of season tomatoes.


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