Oliver Thring, food writer par excellence, human dictionary, and encyclopaedic when it comes to fascinating internet tidbits, recently tweeted a video of Jacques Pepin deboning a whole chicken. It was totally mesmerising. No bells and whistles, no fade ins or fade outs, no sexy, coquettish pouts at the camera (well, maybe a couple), just 10 minutes of pure, brilliant cookery viewing. I went straight out for a chicken and had a go myself. The video proper is at the bottom, but hopefully I can add a couple of useful hints to fellow amateurs that perhaps the great man doesn’t mention. Apologies for the increasingly blurry snaps. Not sure if they are a result of excitement or me having given up booze.
1) Get hold of a big knife and a smaller boning knife. You’ll barely need to use them but make sure they’re sharp. Pull out the wings and cut through the first joint out from the shoulder. Hold the wing tip in a teatowel with the ‘elbow’ facing down. You’ll need the teatowel for grip, just clean it afterwards. With the tip pointing towards you, snap the joint upwards as you push the tip away from you. The two bones should pop out the end of the meatier piece. Cut through the joint and discard one of the bones and the wing tip (save for stock). Pull the meat inside out on the remaining bone so that you’re left with a lollipop, and repeat on the other side.
2) Remove the wishbone by lifting the flap of skin at the neck and cutting an upside down ‘V’ round the cavity. Dig your fingers in and pluck out the wishbone. This is worth doing even when you roast a chicken, as it makes carving easier.
3) Turn the bird on its front and cut straight down the back. Feel for the shoulder joints and cut just through the bone. Take care not to go any further once you’re through, otherwise all hell will break loose. Or something.
4) Sit the chook on its ass and get your thumb where you’ve cut under its shoulders. Pull outwards and down so that the meat comes away like some sweaty sock. Go down as far as the ‘oyster’ (the little nugget of meat at the thigh joint) and repeat on t’other side. Pull the breast forward and further down, leaving the fillets on the carcass.
5) Turn the bird on its side and break the ball and socket joint where the thigh meats the back, and cut through the joint, taking care to take the oyster with you. Same on other side, obviously. Pull the meat away from the carcass entirely. You should now have a piece of what looks like roadkill that still contains leg and thigh bones, and upper arms, as it were. Get your thumb under the fillets on the carcass and pull them off. Remove the white sinew by holding it with a teatowel and pushing the meat away with the flat of a knife.
6) Now the fun part. Cut around the top of the thigh bone (you see the little fella poking out?) and hold it tight while you scrape the meat from the bone with your knife (see Pepin for more detail). When you get to the ‘knee’ cut around that and continue scraping down until you’ve taken all the meat off the bone. Roll it back over the bone and give it a massive thwack on the ankle with the back of a large knife. The bone should now pull out cleanly and most satisfyingly. You can trim its feet off after cooking.
7) Finally remove the wing bones by sitting them upright on the board, cutting around the bone, and pushing the meat down. The bone should slide out. And there you have it. A boned chicken. Now you can stuff the shit out of it, roll it up and cook it like some giant chickeny sausage.
Pepin reckons you should be able to do this in a minute. It took me about 15, though I reckon I could get it down to 5. Perhaps I’ll do a video. Or, even better, why don’t you do a video and send it to me? Happy boning.
For an altogether more elegant version of this shaky how-to guide, see the master at work: