For some people it may feel a little daunting to take on the task of taking apart a whole chicken, but if you have seen it done once it only takes a few times of doing it yourself and you will have the skill nailed for the rest of your life. A grocery store will charge just as much for two chicken breasts, as it costs for the whole chicken... What's with that?!? Well, grocery stores charge you for a lack of knowledge. Anything that is not common knowledge costs a premium; you want beef tenderloin? you're going to pay for it because anyone can cook it. You want pig's feet, and you can get them for nothing because not a lot of home chefs know how to prepare them. The same principle goes for getting the whole chicken. Because you have to take more preparation time, it's going to cost you less, but in the end, instead of having yourself 2 meals, in two breast of chickens, you have yourself a minimum of 6 meals (breasts, legs, bones (soup), wings).
Make sure you are using a plastic cutting board whenever you are dealing with raw poultry. The knife you use doesn't make too much of a difference, the main thing is that it is very sharp, and has a pointed tip, as the entire deboning takes place with using only the first inch of the blade. At home your pairing knife is probably the sharpest and easiest to control, so I would use that. If you want to use your 12" chefs knife because you feel like a confidence boost that day, have at 'er.
It is a very good idea to put a damp cloth under your plastic cutting board, as this will help prevent slippage.
Make sure your chicken is facing head end to your left. The only way this would be different is if you use the knife in your left hand, then it would be the opposite. It's a good idea to give the chicken a good pat down with paper towel, to make it easier to grasp, and not as slippery.
The first incision you will make is going to be the skin in-between the breast and the leg. Pull the leg out far enough that you can see a gap between the breast meat and leg meat, you are only cutting the skin.
Flip the chicken over, and grabbing the leg in your hand, press against the cutting board, as to make the leg bone pop out of the socket.
Now, pull the leg out slightly and glide your knife along the body of the chicken, all the way down from the chickens mid section to the tail. This will remove the first leg. After you remove the first leg, use the exact same steps to take the second leg off.
Place your legs off the the side. Take your chicken body, and face the head towards the bottom of the cutting board.
You are now going to remove the chicken's wishbone. You will start by making an upside down V shape where the lines are marked and another just outside of that first V. If you place your finger in that area, you will be able to feel the wishbone there, and where it is located. Now just follow the V shape, around the wishbone.
Stick your fingers inside the incisions you have made, and you will be able to pull it out. Let the bone dry out a little, and save for an intense wrestling match with a family member.
Now remove the breasts. Start by getting familiar with the chest plate. There will be a spine that runs down the centre, separating the two breasts.
You want to start from the head of the chicken, and work your way down to the tail. Use your fingers to see exactly where the spine that runs down between the two breasts is, and make your cuts just on either side of that bone and follow it all the way down.
It should look like this:
You will now take the breast off the carcass.
Using the tip of your knife, starting at the head of the chicken, you are going to run it down the carcass removing the breast. You can almost use the knife to just scrape it off the bone. Just keep pulling the breast away from the body, and scraping as you go.
Once you get to the end of the breast removal, it will be attached by the wing bone, right here.
Make a cut in between the two joints, right here.
Now the breast is removed from the body.
To remove the wing from the drumstick, pull the wing back the opposite way that it wants to go, this will make some room between the joints. Now make a cut right in between the two joints.
The wing is now removed from the drumstick.
Now using the same method for removing the wing from the drumstick, we can remove the wing tip from the wing. You will find that cutting down on a 45 degree angle between the two, right at the joint is the best way to do this.
We are now going to remove the tenderloin of the chicken, yes chickens have tenderloins too. Sometimes you will find these still on the breasts you buy at the store, but by removing, we will promote more even cooking. The tenderloin itself is just barely attached, you can almost pull it off. It is best to just run your knife along the one side that is attached to the breast. Set aside for use in your soup, or you can make the smallest order of chicken fingers on earth, your choice.
We are now going to tidy up around the chicken breast. First start by removing the white sinewy looking pieces from the under side by slipping your knife underneath and cutting it out. Then we are going to cut off any excess fat/skin from the edges. Be careful when you are trimming the skin from underneath, as it slips from side to side, and you might flip it back over to notice that you have left your chicken breast with a one inch piece of skin strip down the middle of the breast, nobody wants that.
What we have here is called a chicken supreme, it is what they call it when the breast and the drumstick are still attached. If you want you can take this drumstick off with a circular cut around it underneath the breast, but thats not what we're going to do here. We are going to clean up this bone for presentation, this is called "frenching". Cut around the drumstick bone about half an inch down, and then use your knife to scrape off any excess meat, leaving a cleaned bone showing. This is not a necessary step, in fact 99% of restaurants won't even do this, but if you're feeling like a showoff, or inviting your good guests over that night, it's usually a crowd pleaser.
Here is what you will be left with on each side of the chicken. Now finish taking care of the second breast.
The finished product should look something like this. If it doesn't look exact, it's no big deal. It takes a few times to get the hang of it, but this will be something that will change your life in the kitchen. It opens a lot more doors for you, and offers a great sense of accomplishment. Once you know this, you can apply this butchery to pretty well most birds, as the anatomy is extremely similar.