For the last couple of years I have exclusively bought whole chickens. Mostly this is because my easily accessible source of pastured chickens only sells chickens whole. Based on everything I’ve read, however, I think buying whole chickens is also the most economical choice.
The only downside of switching to whole chickens was that I no longer had chicken breasts on hand to use for stir-fries, chicken nuggets or other dishes where chicken breasts really shine. Eventually I mentioned this to Jesse and he came up with this method for removing the chicken breasts prior to cooking the rest of the chicken. Now every chicken we buy gives us two breasts to use in other tasty applications.
The other benefit of removing the breasts is that when I roast the rest of the chicken, it’s nearly all dark meat. I have always thought the dark meat was the best part of a roast chicken. With the breasts removed prior to cooking, I no longer have to suffer through the less appetizing white meat. Win win!
I find it best to take the breasts off right before I cook the rest of the chicken. If you’re short on time, however, you could remove the breasts in advance and then store the rest of the chicken in the fridge for a few hours until you’re ready to cook it.
How to Remove Chicken Breasts from a Whole Chicken
Cut through the skin along the breastbone. Peel back the skin on the right breast to expose the breast meat. Where the skin is adhered tightly to the meat, use your knife to help detach the skin from the meat.
Separate the meat from the breastbone by making a cut along the right side of the breastbone, beginning at the bottom of the chicken and working your way towards the wishbone. Cut deep enough into the meat that you encounter the cartilage underneath the breast.
When you meet the cartilage, continue cutting at an angle to separate the meat from the cartilage. The cartilage will slope downwards towards the legs. As you work your way towards the wishbone, also begin angling your cuts so as to also separate the meat from the wishbone. Continue cutting and pulling until the breast meat is only attached on the side of the chicken nearest the legs.
Removing the breast often leaves the tender still attached to the cartilage. Cut the tender off the cartilage.
Cut along the outer side of the breast meat to disconnect the breast from the side of the chicken nearest the legs. Repeat the whole process for the left breast.
Store the two chicken breasts in separate containers in your fridge or freezer. Cook the previously-whole chicken using the same method you normally would.
If you are roasting the chicken after removing the breasts, roast it back side up rather than breast side up. This will allow the skin on the back to get nice and crispy.
I have not particularly noticed a time difference for cooking a whole chicken once the breasts are removed. You may want to check the chicken a bit earlier than you would normally, though, especially if your chicken is on the larger side.
If your whole chicken was previously frozen, it is still safe to refreeze the breasts after you remove them, as long as the whole chicken was defrosted in your refrigerator. According to the USDA, the quality of the meat may be affected due to the defrosting process, but refreezing is not a safety concern. Personally I refreeze the breasts nearly every time and have never noticed a compromised flavor or texture.
Do you buy whole chickens? How do you like to cook them?
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