Only the drumstick, as we see it on the market today, closely resembles the pieces of a frying chicken as I was taught to cut it up. And more often than not, the drumstick remains attached to the thigh and the entire piece is referred to as the leg quarter.
Missing are the back, saddle and pully bone. They are divided and left in some illogical shape to stay with the adjacent larger parts.
Even the wing is dismembered. It was my father’s favorite piece, but he wanted the wing tip left intact and tucked under the big bone, making a triangle that fried crisp and brown in lard heated to the just-right temperature in the iron skillet.
My mother claimed the back as her favorite piece. In my mind I questioned her choice, as there was so little meat on the back; I guessed that she figured no one else would choose that piece, and she took it. However, as I began to branch out from my favorite piece, I found those two “oysters” on either side of the back to be worth sacrificing for.
And what was my favorite piece? The “pully” bone. More refined eaters would call it the wishbone. And it is gone, completely gone. When dressing a chicken, I learned to angle my sharp butcher knife against the breastbone and take off the A-shaped bone intact, surrounded by the mostly delicious bites of white meat ever prepared. Today’s practice divides the wishbone, leaving each half with the side breasts (as we called them) which are somewhat inaccurately called the breasts.
Modern times children miss the 19th century superstition of pulling apart the wishbone with someone and squealing with delight when they got the longer piece, meaning that their wish would come true. Only when a whole bird of breast is cooked is a wishbone available for this ritual.
To cover the subject thoroughly, we need to discuss the saddle. It bridged the area between the neck and the back, was shaped like a riding saddle and was relatively small. Not a quality piece, it fried crisp and was quite desirable, provided you could have another piece also. Even less meat was on the neck, but nothing was wasted, so it took its place on the platter.
Then there was the giblets. If we buy a dressed fowl from the poultry section of the supermarket, the gizzard, liver and heart are packaged individually. When we dressed fryers at home, the giblets were cooked along with all other parts. I made a quick reach for the gizzard, unless I was with company and mindful on my manners. My mother especially liked the liver, and to be honest, often the kitty cat was given the heart.
When I think of then and now, we are not necessarily comparing right and wrong.
Nevertheless, the art of poultry carving is losing ground. We were taught to find the exact joint and carefully separate piece from piece. Today it is hard to tell what part of the bird you are getting as you select from the serving plate. I picture the fresh bird flattened on the chopping block and a butcher attacking from above with a cleaver, allowing it to fall wherever it might.