Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Breaking Down

Everyone should bone.

That's what I always say.

Which is why I took a gift card and my sous chef to the Brooklyn Kitchen for an Advanced Knife Skills class.

My mom had given me a gift card for the place and I held out, hoping to get into their famous "Whole Hog" butchering class. But I decided to cash in early and learn how to break down a chicken and fillet a fish myself, rather than watch a dude do it to a pig. It turned out to be a fantastic lesson.

First, all five or six of us got face-to-face with a whole, raw chicken. The teacher, a chef from Porchetta, talked us through using a boning knife and then demonstrated how we would need to find the chicken's joints to make cuts. The boning knife is flexible and curved so you can follow the lines of an animal rather than chopping up and down.

The first cut was to take off the wings. We stretched out the arm joints a few times, finding the right bend in the "elbow." Then, you slice through the skin to find two white knobs. When you find them, slice through and the wing should come off. Like BUTTAH baby.

That was the main lesson for the whole night: if there's major resistance, you're doing it wrong. Good metaphor for life, maybe?

After the wings, you slice through the breast and carefully separate the meat from the bone until you have a half chicken attached only at the bottom. Then you pop the thigh bone and cut off the half chicken, then cut the breast (with its nub of the top of a wing) from the thigh bone and leg. Tada.

It was pretty cool working with a whole chicken, because you really see that the meat you're eating comes from an animal that was once alive. It had elbows and a head. I know that people do actually REALIZE chicken came from a living chicken, but it does makes you think of how much meat you might have thrown out or forgotten in the freezer over the years. That animal gave its life for your noms, and you should respect it and acknowledge it.

Next, we moved on to the round fish. I'm not a fan of touching whole fish. And live fish? Forget about it. But I grabbed one, avoiding holding it IN THE EYE SOCKETS as instructed, and set to filleting it.

We gutted it first, then cut around the head, then tail, then sliced it along the top. I managed to cut my finger either with my knife or on one of the sharp fins. It didn't hurt, but I kept bleeding awkwardly into what would eventually be dinner.

It was much harder to hold the fish still (slippery little bastards) and cleanly slice. Any slip ups would fray the meat and that's no good. I eventually got my two fillets and hey! They were big. Even though the skin is edible, we tried skinning them and I ended up with two almost perfect guys.

On the way home, boyfriend carrying a huge bag of chicken, carcasses and fish, we stopped to get some herbs and veggies. For dinner, we sauteed the fish with some shallots, lemon and tarragon, then made jasmine rice and green beans.

Here's to a fully stocked freezer and eating chicken for weeks.

(Image from here)


A how-to video by our instructor. Tidy.

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