Should you find yourself facing a crate containing a multitude of de-feathered and gutted Euskal Oiloak, here’s a handy guide for what to to:
1. When you walk into the kitchen and spot the container in question, do not think to yourself “Heh, somebody’s got some nasty work ahead of them!” because that someone will inevitably be you, and it’s better to get over the queasy feeling as soon as possible.
2. Arm yourself with a cutting board, a boning knife, a sharp pair of scissors, and a small hatchet. Grab one of the offending specimens sin miedo and place him/her/it face-down on the cutting board. Try not to notice the gaping wound on its throat, and with a sharp and solid flick of the wrist, let the hatchet blade fall straight through the neck. This takes a few tries to get used to, and the result isn’t pretty. Snip any remaining skin with the scissors and put the entire head-neck combo in one corner of a pan.
3. Turn the guy on its side and extend one leg. Just above the yellow and reptilian (and flaking) foot-scales is a handy little joint, quite stubbornly attached. With another swift and fearless hatchet-chop, TakeItOff! Turn the chicken over and cut off the other foot. I found this to be the trickiest part, and often had to resort to snapping it in half with my hands and then cutting the remaining ligaments with a knife. (Nothing is gross anymore.)
4. Use. Scissors. To. Cut. Off. The. Toenails. Yes, I said it: cut off the toenails of a dead chicken and throw them away. Put the stumpy feet next to the head in the pan. (Blessedly, chickens and other birds close their eyes upon dying. The same can’t be said about deer.)
5. Choose a side and start cutting at the armpit (or is it wing-pit?). Cut around the wing joint, give a little tug here and there, and with a single cut through some tendons, the whole wing should separate. Switch sides and repeat.
6. Put what remains of the chicken to the side and gather together the two detached wings and a hatchet. Hold the larger end of one wing firmly with one hand and attempt to straighten it; all the right levers and pulleys are put into action and the whole wing extends. Let the hatchet fall straight through the smallest joint, and put the these little points in the pan alongside the feet and head. Start a new pile o’parts in a second pan, beginning with the newly severed wings.
7. Let the chicken get nice and comfortable on its back for a hot minute. Stretch the legs out a little bit away from the body. Pierce through the now-taut thick rubbery skin on one side and gently start to separate the thigh from the surrounding muscles. Once both have been cut all the way around, grab the chicken by both thighs with your thumbs pointing down and your fingers on its back. Push both legs out (as if the poor fella was learning to do a split) and pop both joints out of their sockets. If you’re really lucky, you’ll hear a quiet yet immensely sickening hiss/suction sound as the bone pops free from the socket. Gently cut through the remaining ligaments, following the curve around the back. Start a pile o’thighs in the pan that has the wings.
8. It’s skinnin’ time: starting from the, ahem, crotch area, use your knife and sheer brute strength to pull/cut all the skin from the front, up and over the headless neck, and down the back. This skin, along with a HUMUNGOUS chunk of fat around the tail area, can be rendered down to make schmaltz, should you so desire, which will give you a nice and compact 99.8 grams of fat per 100 grams. In this case, however, skin’s goin’ down the chute (garbage, that is).
9. Now for what should be the easiest, but for me is the hardest. Gently separate both breasts from the sternum using as few knife strokes as possible, and keep the meat from inside the wishbone intact. Put these in the pan with the thighs and wings, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. This will all be delicious and worth the bone-snapping and head-chopping.
10. Fill a pot with water and boil. Submerge the heads and feet and let them boil for just a few minutes to remove any stray bits of grime and to reduce their once vibrant yellows and reds to a uniform pasty beige.
11. Now for the rest: Cut straight down the carcass, separating the front and back halves. Put all these bones, plus the wing tips, toenail-less feet, and entire heads in a gigantic stockpot with leeks, onions, carrots, thyme, bay, peppercorns, parsley stems, and a bit of that loathsome apium: celery. Bring it to a boil and them let it gently simmer for hours.
12. Every few minutes swirl a skimmer around the surface of the “water” to remove the fat and (gulp) foamy scum that continually rises to the surface.
13. Any time that a recipe calls for chicken stock throughout the day, dip a ladle in, push aside the trembling heads and feet, and scoop out a nice splash of juice. After a few more painful hours of seeing toes and cockscombs floating past fresh vegetables, strain the stock through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and be rid at last of the remaining mushy chickenparts.