I have been accused of being slow in the kitchen. I prefer to think of my style as “careful and deliberate,” but the bottom line is that sometimes I spend more time than is necessary putting food on the table.
Part of this is that I enjoy the process of cooking; part of it is that I sometimes pay too much attention to minutiae than I should, and some of it is that I am also, usually, trying to contend with the everyday crises that arise when you have three children underfoot.
All of this is an introduction to the next in my series, “things you can do to cut down on the time it takes you to cook dinner while still actually cooking dinner.” (Prior entries have included the proper use of a pressure cooker and the wonderful world of canned beans).
So here’s the tip in a nutshell: cut a whole chicken into smaller pieces than you ordinarily see in “Western” cuisine and it will take less time to cook. That’s not an earth-shattering revelation, I know, but hear me out, because there are other benefits.
First, of course, is that by starting with a whole chicken, you’ll save money on the price per pound. It’s true that the edible portion of a whole chicken is less than that of boneless breasts, it’s still a bargain, because even those portions you can’t directly consume can be used for other purposes – stock, for example. Second, though, you may find that if you cut the bird up into smaller pieces, you’ll end up eating portions that you can’t order at KFC; there’s a lot of meat on the back, for example, depending on how you cut it.
If you decide butchering a whole chicken is too much trouble, you can still cut those pieces up and at least obtain the benefit of a quicker cooking time.
To do this you’ll want a reasonably heavy chef’s knife or a cleaver. To just cut up a whole chicken into the standard leg/thigh, breast and wing portions, any sharp knife (or kitchen shears) will do, but to take it a step further you’ll be going through bone, so go for something with some heft.
Start by removing the leg/thigh portion on each side. Find the thigh joint by pulling the leg/thigh back until it pops. Use your knife to cut between the joint. Repeat and then do the same thing for the joint between the leg and the thigh.
Cut off the wings at the second joint, and then cut the wing tip from the middle portion. Place the chicken in a vertical position on your cutting board, so that the wishbone (and the thickest part of the breast) is touching the board, and the rear is facing up. Put your knife in the “v” shape between the back and the breast, and cut down to separate the breast from the back. You shouldn’t have any real resistance until you get to the wishbone, and even then, firm pressure should do the trick. You can trim off any bits of rib sticking to the breast portion, and then cut the breast halves apart down the center. Cut the wing “drumstick” from each breast.
At this point you’ve got, essentially, the standard portions you see in any grocery store, and if you’re lucky, the neck, liver, gizzard and heart were in the cavity.
The trick now is to cut each of the pieces (aside from the wings, by cutting each wing into three pieces you’ve already got them into small enough pieces) into smaller pieces. I usually cut each breast (with the bone still on) across, into three pieces. I cut the thighs in two, sometimes not bothering to go through the bone. Cut the back, again, across, into at least four pieces, and then cut the drumstick at an angle, through the meatiest part of the top.
Math is not my strong suit, but I think that gives you around 22 pieces, not counting the neck or innards. So what to do with all of those pieces? Make a quick marinade (or just use salt and pepper) and combine with the chicken while your oven preheats to 375 degrees. If you’re using a wet marinade, remove most of it before adding the chicken to a pan big enough that the pieces aren’t touching, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Finish under the broiler (for 5 minutes or so) to crisp up the skin.
Bear in mind that the amount of time it takes to roast will depend on the size of your pieces – so always check to make sure that the juices run clear (from the thickest part of each piece) before you eat it.
I find that there’s a good bit of meat on the back of a chicken, and once it’s roasted, it’s hard to distinguish which portion was the back, and which was a part of the thigh or breast. That’s not a bad thing when you’re serving a bunch of kids who may not relish the idea of eating a cut that’s “different” from the norm.
Yet another advantage is that when you cut the chicken into smaller pieces, you increase the percentage of surface area exposed to direct heat, and that means more opportunity for crispy, browned deliciousness. That’s true whether you roast, sauté or fry, too.=
I know this may not sound like much of a short cut, but every little bit helps, no? If you’ve got a similar time-saver, please share in the comments.