"Chicken pays the rent," said the chef for whom I worked during my apprenticeship, "it's what people want to eat when they don't know what to eat." That was the gospel for me. Have chicken; pay bills; got it! Being the twenty year-old know-it-all, I asked about cutting whole chickens. "I could pay somebody to take them apart, use the breasts and try to find a use for the rest. I buy them boned and skinned, then buy necks and backs for stock."
So, I have been torn over the years; lower price to buy whole chickens and fabricate them myself, with added labor cost versus buying boneless, skinless chicken but pay more. Yes, a cost analysis is very easily accomplished by calculating the food cost of each item and then factoring the labor cost, time investment, storage of each of the items and the practicality of each practice. To make it more complicated, there is the quality/selectivity issue; locally raised, free-range, purple-feathered, virgin, left-handed fabricated Gallus Domesticus are not readily available.
This piece is not about "to cut or not to cut." Rather, what follows is an (almost) step-by-step, neat and tidy, guide to taking apart a chicken using a boning knife.
Instant disclaimer: There is more than one way to accomplish an 8- or 10-cut chicken. The method pictured below is what works for me. Many other methods exist, or have yet to be invented; this particular step-by-step is how I introduce the process.
Remove the wishbone:
Gently insert the boning knife into the neck cavity. Scrape the meat between the breast and collar bone, on both sides of the opening.
Slide the knife between the scraped bone and the breast to free the bone; repeat on other side.
Carefully pull the wishbone from the carcass, using care not to break the bone.
Remove the wings:
Free the wing at the joint meeting the breast by lifting the chicken by the wing. This will force the joint to 'extend' and easily guide the knife through the hinge at the breast. Repeat on other side.
Remove the wing tips (the nearly meatless last joint of the wing)
Separate the first and second bones ('wing' and 'drumette') of the wing. Pick up the removed wing and locate the remaining hinge by flexing the joint. Make a delicate incision to mark the joint.
With the hinge clearly marked, return the wing to the board and complete the cut.
This cut does not remove any meat from the carcass. Instead, this cut will provide stability for the rest of the process. Cut through the skin at the opening of the chicken opposite the neck opening stopping at the rib cage. The leg/thigh section should gently fall towards the cutting board.
Remove the breasts:
Following the curvature of the rib cage, run the boning knife next to the keel bone (breast bone) between the ribs and the breast meat down to the cutting board. Repeat on the other breast. The tenderloin (little strip of easily-removed meat) should remain on the obverse side of each of the removed breasts.
Remove the legs and thighs:
Grasp the thighs firmly and apply firm pressure against the natural movement of the hinge. There may be a distinctive 'pop' when the thigh bones come out of their joint.
Run the knife along the base of the rib cage following through the newly freed thigh joint. Remove as much of the meat on the anterior side of the rib cage (the 'oyster') as possible since it holds great flavor and preserves maximum meat yield from the chicken.
Much like separating the joints of the wing, separate the first and second bones of the leg and thigh. Pick up the freed leg/thigh section and locate the remaining hinge by flexing the joint by squeezing. Make a delicate incision to mark the joint.
With the hinge clearly marked, return the section to the board and complete the cut.
This process yields ten cuts; 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings, 2 drumettes. To produce a traditional 8-cut chicken, the wing-drumette are typically left intact. The remaining carcass can be used for stock or discarded, if you dare.