It used to be that the cheapest and tastiest chicken you could buy was the whole chicken. This is no longer the case. With all of the low-fat and weight loss paranoia around today, chicken breasts have become as popular and available as sirloin steaks used to be in the 1960′s, when meat and potatoes were the rule. In this new century, chicken and broccoli are the most popular dish, usually boneless skinless chicken breasts at outrageous prices.
This demand for chicken breasts has it’s positive side. It means that stores are almost giving away the legs and thighs that are cut off of the platinum priced breasts. I have seen chicken leg quarters, as they are called, go as cheaply as 27¢ a pound. Yes, 27¢ a pound. Now if that isn’t almost free, I don’t know what is. The thing about leg quarters is that they have all of the skin, fat, bone and chicken backs still attached to them. Which means they need a little more handling in the kitchen than those dainty little breasts. But if I can get leg quarters for under 50¢ a pound always, and often under 29¢ a pound, then it seems to me that a little extra work in the kitchen is worth it, considering I save between 4 and 5 dollars for every pound of chicken flesh I liberate.
Chicken Tips and Tricks
In order to process chicken leg quarters in your own kitchen, you need a small sharp knife, a little patience, and a willingness to get your hands gooey with chicken flesh. Each leg quarter can be divided by wiggling the thigh and leg to see where the joint is. You use that small knife of yours to sever the two pieces right between that joint. Sometimes you can use your hands to sort of break the two pieces of chicken apart there at the joint, and then just use your knife to cut through the meat and tendon maintaining the attachment. If you like, you can cut the back off of the chicken thigh too. I always do. Grab a hold of the straight edged bony side of the thigh, and break it off of the rest of the chicken quarter with strong fingers. The thigh bone will have a socket in the chicken back, and you use your small knife to cut through the meat and fat which is still holding it all together. It will seem logical once you have the chicken leg quarter sitting on the counter in front of you. Save the backs and use them to make chicken noodle soup, or chicken broth. They have quite a bit of meat on them, if you pick them over carefully.
Chicken thighs are very easy to bone. They only have one big bone in the middle. To remove it, you just pry it out of the flesh with strong fingers. It takes almost no work. Boneless chicken thighs can be used in any recipe for boneless chicken breasts, and at less than a quarter of the cost.
To remove the skin from the chicken just pull down from the thigh, sort of ripping it off when you get to the handle part of the leg. I remove the skin first, before doing any other work to the chicken. All of those recipes you have which call for 3 pounds of chicken pieces, or a 3 pound chicken cut into pieces, can be prepared using only the leg quarters. It takes about 4 leg quarters to make 3 pounds of chicken. Skin the chicken if desired, and then cut each quarter at the joint, and break off the backs. This will give you 8 pieces of nice meaty chicken, or about the equivalent of one chicken, cut into pieces. In my recipes I detail which ones do best with chicken quarters, and exactly how to prepare them for the recipe.
The only other type of chicken I buy regularly is whole fryers and roasters when they go on sale for a really good price. Then I buy at least 5 to go into the freezer. Whole chickens are really nice for company dinners, Sunday suppers and special times when a roast chicken looks really pretty in the center of the table. They are always more expensive than leg quarters on sale, and as far as I am concerned, much more difficult to cut into attractive pieces. Should you ever find a super sale on them though, give cutting them up a try. If they aren’t pretty, you can always boil them and make Chicken & Dumplings, or Creamed Chicken.