Friday, October 3, 2014

How to Debone Poultry

I finally got around to it, the lesson I have been wanting to do almost since I started this blog.

The version I'm doing is the classical one demonstrated by Jaques Pepin on PBS many, many years ago.  It's on the long side, but an excellent demonstration.
There are faster ways to do it, but this one preserves the most meat and the shape of the chicken.  I did this once to a turkey.  Do not buy a Butterball, or you will be pulling out handfuls of butter from between every muscle.  Once it was stuffed and tied up, it looked like a turkey on a diet, but the shape was intact.  The leg bones had been replaced with stuffing, and the whole thing could be sliced crosswise like a loaf.  I didn't have to figure out how to carve it.  I had done all the hard work before it went into the oven.

For this demo, I picked up some Cornish hens.  Very thin bones.  With smaller poultry, you have to be extra careful not to tear the meat or skin.  Chicken, duck, and goose are all the mid-sized fowl that are easiest to do with this method.  Since you get a better meat yield with deboning, over 90%, I was able to allow half a hen per serving instead of the usual full bird.

This took me 20 minutes for the first bird and about 18 for the second.  Some of that time was stopping to wash my hands to take pictures, but not much.  It has been about ten years since I've done this, so a first-timer should expect a similar result.  In a professional kitchen, the prep cook should be able to do it in about five minutes.  The turkey took me slightly over an hour.  In my defense, it was not 100% defrosted and I spent a lot of time dumping that butter in a bowl.

All right, here we go, breaking down the video into smaller segments:

1.  Get out an array of very sharp and thin knives, plus one heavier knife to break the legs.  By having a few on hand, you'll be able to switch off more easily if you realize one isn't quite right for a particular step.  Unwrap bird, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with paper towels.  Make sure the cutting board is secure, with either a towel or grip pad underneath.  Have a plastic bag handy to collect the bones.  Either freeze them for a project we're doing next week, or use it to seal them before throwing away.  They smell after a few days.

2.  Remove two end segments of the wings.  On a person, that would be shoulder to elbow that stays put.  This is easily done by placing a knife in the joint, which should give way without effort.  You can save the next joint for a wing dish or toss it in the bag.

3.  Place chicken breast-side up.  There should be a neck opening so you don't have to cut the skin.  Make two small slashes at the top of the breast just deep enough to pull out the wishbone.  If it breaks, make sure you go in there and get all the pieces.  It is an extremely sharp and dangerous bone once broken, and you're going to be sticking your hand in there in a minute.

4.  Turn over the bird and slice the length of the backbone, all the way down to the bone.  I find it easier to make two cuts, one on each side of the spine.  They will be very close together, maybe half an inch apart, and go neck to tail.

5.  Back on the breastbone side, reach through the wishbone slashes until you feel the shoulder joints.  Disjoint them with the tip of a knife, making sure to cut the sinews.  Do not remove the wing bones just yet, or cut any of the skin.

6.  Flip over again and pull the flesh off the carcass at the ribcage.  Pepin talks about including the "oysters", which are a pair of round muscles at the hip-bone.  Since you are going through the back, the breast meat should be largely intact.  Sometimes, the filets come off as you're pulling.  If not, pull them off separately and remove the long sinew as Pepin demonstrates.  Bony parts go in the bag, meat back on cutting board.
7.  Scrape down the thigh bones until the "knee" joints are exposed.  Cut connective tissue and remove thigh bones.

8.  Using the back of your heavy knife, break the "feet" knobs free of the leg bones.  For the turkey, I needed Techie Smurf's help to break the bones.  The Cornish hens were so light, I could almost do them with bare hands.  Scrape down leg bones and remove, leaving feet in the skin.

9.  Scrape down and remove last wing bones.

10.  Double-check for bones, cartilage, and connective tissue.  The only tough parts left should be the feet.

Now, what to do with this floppy mess of meat.  The fancy dish would be a galantine, which the average home cook would not necessarily serve the family for dinner.  A ballotine is more appropriate, and is what I did.  My trussing string is from Home Depot.  Don't spend a lot, just make sure it's cotton.  Pepin's looping technique is not only classical, it is the easiest and most reliable way to tie up poultry or a roast.

When cooking a stuffed, deboned piece of poultry, the standard 350º oven and 160º pull temperature are still recommended.  Make sure you are temping the center of the stuffing, especially if it contains eggs.  The other five degrees are from a ten-minute rest.  The cooking time may be slightly less because the stuffing is usually less dense than the meat and bones.  It depends on what you use and how tightly it's packed.  Use a thermometer, check every 15 minutes until it gets close.

Good luck!

Difficulty rating $@%!

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