Necessary change is not always as good

By Evelyn Richardson - Here and There

You may not care what piece of the chicken you are eating at a restaurant; sure-as-the-world you can’t tell.

If you order white meat or dark meat, you blindly trust those in the kitchen to get it right. Only when you bite through the crusty coating do you know. There’s no clue in the shape or size, except maybe for the drumstick.

Learning how to cut up a chicken was almost a rite of passage to being a kitchen helper. Hatching, feeding, killing, scalding, plucking and gutting could be done with flying colors, but if you didn’t cut up a chicken well, the finished product was less than good. I wouldn’t be surprised that future mothers-in-law found out whether the girl whom their son was courting could cut up a chicken before she spoke her approval.

There were slight deviations from family to family in years past as to the exact shapes, but there was no mistaking which part of the bird you were eating.

Using a sharp knife whetted on the grindstone at the shop, we learned how to find and sever the joints of legs and thighs at the exact place to cleanly remove them from the body. Wings were taken off with their three movable parts intact so the last could be folded under the first to make a neat triangle for frying.

Next came careful carving of the breast, making sure the wishbone was encased in plenty of meat. That was my favorite piece. We called it the “pullybone” but always followed the superstition that gave it its name. After it was cooked and we had eaten it clean, we made a silent wish and two of us pulled and broke the V-shaped bone to see who would get the longer side, assuring that his or her wish would come true.

The rest of the carcass was divided into neck, saddle (that joined the neck to the back), back with its “oysters” on each side (my mother’s favorite piece) and two nice side breasts. From inside came the delicacies of liver and gizzard. There were tips to be learned about how to handle them. We did not save the heart except from baking hens when it was stewed with the other organs and sliced into the giblet gravy.

In all fairness, there has been a developing reason over the decades to influence the “look” of some chicken pieces. Poultry has been bred to enlarge greatly the breast area of the bird to meet consumer preference for this particular white meat. Therefore the breast must be cut several times to equalize the size of serving pieces put on the platter.

We can’t leave this topic without mentioning that the flavor of chicken has also been altered by, first, commercial production and, second, by the abandoning of heavy iron skillets filled deep with lard for frying. Necessary change is not always as “good.”

By Evelyn Richardson

Here and There

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