Chicken greater than the sum of its pieces


Published Apr 23, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

I used to think the only reason to buy a whole chicken was to actually cook it whole. Why buy one for a recipe calling for parts when the supermarket will cut up the bird for you?

It’s not that I’ve ever minded breaking down a chicken, which takes about five minutes. I just figured that if it didn’t make any difference in the dish, why bother.

Then one day my mother set me straight. I was ripping the plastic off a package of chicken pieces, getting ready to dredge and fry. She was sitting at my kitchen table, shaking her head.

“I know you know how to cut up a whole chicken, so what’s with the pieces?” she asked. A whole bird, she reminded me, was cheaper per pound, and I’d get the added bonus of the back, neck and gizzards, which I could simmer into stock.

Her logic was sound. It’s one thing to buy a package of thighs or drumsticks when you need a specific part, but you might as well cut up your own bird if you need a variety.

Another advantage to cutting up your own chicken is that you can decide how many parts you like. I prefer cutting the bird into eighths rather than tenths, keeping the breasts whole. White meat cooks faster than dark, so leaving the breasts in large hunks helps ensure that everything finishes in the same amount of time.