Parting out homegrown chickens

Pastured chicken broth

The first year we
raised meat chickens, I simply froze them all whole.  I was new to
cooking with real meat, and
roasting a chicken was the only easy recipe
I knew that used up the entire bird.

However, I’ve started to
spread my culinary wings, and have also realized that I need
lots of
chicken stock in July, August, and September to make 
.  As a
result, this year I’m cutting up the first
batch of broilers (and maybe the second as well) and am making stock
out of the non-prime portions.  Here are the steps in my chicken
processing operation:

  • Cutting off a chicken thighCut off the legs
    Slit through the skin to release the legs (including the thighs) from
    the breast of the chicken, then bend the leg down until the bone snaps
    out of its socket.  Next, you can quickly sever the entire
    thigh with a sharp knife — no need to cut through any bones. 
    (My favorite recipe for this part of the bird is Garlic
    and Thyme Chicken Legs
  • Slice off the breasts
    I leave the skin on the legs for culinary reasons, but I
    peel back the skin before removing the breast.  I carefully filet
    breast meat off the bones, not worrying too much if I leave a few big
    gobs of
    meat behind.  (It won’t go to waste — I’ll get it in the a later
  • Cook the carcasses
    What you have left after cutting off the legs and breast
    is a rather meaty carcass.  I simmer it in water for about half an
    hour to an hour, then pull the carcass out to cool (keeping the water
    as the beginning of my stock).  For this first cooking step, you
    don’t want to simmer the carcasses for too long or the connective
    tissue between the bones will dissolve, making it more likely that
    you’ll Chicken saladaccidentally pick out a small
    bone with the meat in the next step.
  • Pick the meat off the bones
    Once the carcass is cool, I carefully pick the remaining meat off the
    bones.  If you’re pretty good at picking meat off the bones (don’t
    forget those lumps at the base of the spine) and only so-so at slicing
    off the breast, you should expect to get about half a cup of meat per
    three month old, heirloom chicken.  Presumably, you’d get about
    twice that from a big supermarket bird (or homegrown Cornish
    Cross).  I ignore the feet during this
    process but do carefully pull a bit of meat off the neck.  This
    meat is perfect for turning into chicken salad or chicken pot pie.
  • Strain stockMake stock.  Throw
    the bones back in the water along with the feet and necks and simmer
    for at least three hours (longer is better) until the water has turned
    cloudy and yellowish.  (Non-pastured birds won’t produce yellow
    stock — it will instead look light brown.)  Pour the contents
    of your pot through a collander to remove the bones, then freeze or can
    the stock for later use.

Although this process
sounds a bit complex, I completed the whole thing
in about four hours for seven broilers, not counting the time the stock
spent simmering on its own.  As a result, we enjoyed four servings
of pesto chicken salad, put away two cups of cooked meat and three
of broth to turn into four gallons of summer soup, and have about two
meals worth of breasts and four meals worth of legs waiting for us in
the freezer.  Homegrown protein for 34 meals — not bad for a
morning’s work.

Our chicken waterer kept the broilers healthy
until butchering day.

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