If you value the freshness of the chicken breast you are about to eat and have fallen prey to the healthy addiction to homemade chicken soup, then you will always bone chicken breasts yourself. It takes only minutes, is a simple process to learn, and the reward is meat you know to be fresh and some tasty trimmings for the stockpot, in addition to the money saved for your few minutes’ labor.
I begin with whole breasts—two individual breasts that are joined at the top by the wishbone and farther down by a V-shaped keel bone, and are covered by a single large piece of skin. The first step is to rip the skin off with one good tug and discard it. Then, I, turn the breast over and tug loose and discard any bloody membranes clinging to the bony cavity formed by the breasts.
Step #2 is to put the breast on a cutting surface flesh side down and cut through the hard and dark colored top of the keel bone with the tip of a strong, sharp knife or cleaver, so that you can flatten the breast with your hands and lay it flat on the board for easy boning.
(From this point on, different cooks exhibit different styles. Here is mine—a combination of a bit of knife work and a better bit of yanking.)
Step #3 in my method is to put the flattened breast bony side down and to run a knife along the length of the keel bone to one side to sever the piece completely. At this point, I have two individual breasts, one still attached to the keel bone.
Step #4 centers on freeing the keel bone. I put the breast half with the keel bone attached bony side down, then use the knife to cut along the length of the keel bone to detach it from the meat. Once the cut is neatly made, I put the knife down and work mostly with my thumbs to slip them between the meat and the bony cage and move them about beneath the flesh to release it. When I feel that it is freed, then I just yank the meat free—carefully yet firmly—so that the main breast piece comes off with the tubular fillet still attached.
Step #5 is to bone the other breast piece in the same manner, skipping the knife work necessitated by the keel bone. Now one is left with two and possibly four pieces of breast meat: the two triangular main breast pieces and the two tubular fillets, which may or may not have come free from the breast in the course of boning. The bones all go into the plastic bag for making stock.
Step #6 is to gently separate the fillets from the main breast pieces if they are still joined, then remove and discard the white, glove-like membrane clinging in whole or part to the fillets. Discard as well any bits of membrane adhering to the breasts. Locate the tip of the thick white tendon that pokes out from the top of the fillet, then lay the fillet tendon side down on the board. Grasp the tendon tip with a dry towel, and, holding your knife on a gentle angle between the towel and the fillet and almost but not quite touching the board, pull on the tendon with the towel, pulling it free of the meat. The trick is to use the knife to hold the meat in place so it is not dragged along with the tendon and to not cut the tendon with the knife. It’s a quick and easy business once you have the knack of it, and you shouldn’t let one or two failures discourage you from perfecting this little trick.
When the tendons are zipped free and discarded, the only thing left to do is neaten the main breast pieces. Spread them flat on the board and use your knife to trim away any blood clots, veiny or membranous pieces, and fatty lozenges at the periphery of the meat. What you want are two neat triangular breast pieces that feel perfectly smooth and soft to the touch. All the trimmings go into the stock bag so that nothing is lost.
This is all there is to boning a chicken breast—a 3- to 5-minute operation once you become proficient, one that rewards you with four beautifully trimmed and plump pieces of chicken instead of the raggedy boned breasts sold so dearly in stores.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.