The challenge with your ‘everyday’ chicken breast is that, when cooked, it becomes dry. And while any chef will say that the ideal preparation would entail cooking a chicken breast bone-in and skin-on (because the bones add flavour and the skin protects the breast and keeps it moist and juicy), many diners don’t want to be reminded that the protein on their plate walked, let alone had bones … and many home cooks are averse to bone-in because it takes 3xtimes as long to cook.
The compromise is the boneless but skin-on breast. Easy? No. This is because most typical grocery stores and purveyors of cellophane wrapped meat don’t offer this cut. It’s either bone-in, skin-on or boneless-skinless. What to do? Well, the answer is either ask the butcher to do it for you and you’ll pay full-price or you can easily do it yourself … and, with a little practice, you’ll never ask anyone to do this again. Why? What’s in it for you?
A) Perfectly trimmed chicken, just the way you want it
B) You get the bonus of chicken tenders for another use
C) You get incredible chicken bones to make soup or stock
D) You get all the above for less money
All you will need to do this is the confidence to know that you can … that and a sharp knife. While a sharp chef’s knife will do, a deboning or filleting knife works even better and allows you to fillet the bones from the breast while losing very little meat.
Six Steps to Debone a Chicken Breast … and Leave the Skin On
Step One: Lay your whole breast flat (yes, I know … counter-intuitive)
Step Two: Look for the layer of bone on the bottom of the breast. These are the ribs. There may be some cartilage in the way (the sternum) depending on how the butcher has prepared the breast.
Step Three: Insert edge of your knife between the bottom of the ribcage and the meat and slice away from you to separate the ribs from the meat. Press your knife against the ribs as you slice — feel the ribs with your knife: these are the guide for your hand, telling you are not wasting meat.
Step Four: Lifting the breast as you cut, pull away the meat as you go. You may run into a small ‘snag’ at the top edge of the breast: this will be half the wishbone (cool, huh?). You may need to cut around this a bit to separate it from the meat, but once you’ve done this, with a twist and pull, the wish bone will come clean away and you’ll now have a breast separated from the ribs.
→ But wait! Don’t throw the bones away! I gather mine and place them in a freezer bag and throw them in my freezer and just keep adding to the bag until it’s full. When I have 2-3 bags in the freezer, it is time to make stock.
Step Five: You could stop here, which is where most butchers stop, but here’s a couple more tricks. You’ll notice that the breast is very thick at one end/edge. This isn’t ideal for even cooking. On the bottom-side of the breast is an extra layer of meat that is actually not well-attached. This is the chicken “tender” and it is ideal for, yes, you guessed it, chicken strips and stir-fries. You’re going to remove this and freeze them for another time.
You’ll be sure to identify it because it has a white elastic tendon that protrudes. Grab it on this end and start to pull the tender from the breast — using your knife to carefully and gently slice where it attaches. Voila. Step 5 is now done.
You may need to trim a bit around the breast of any residual fat or extra skin (both are prone for flare-ups on your grill) and other bits you don’t want to eat.
Step Six (optional): Finally, before you freeze these tenders, I recommend removing the chewy, indigestible tendon. This is tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it with some practice — so don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it right the first time.
What you need to do is release enough of the tendon that you can firmly grasp it with your fingers. After you’ve done that, well, this is where the tricky part happens: while holding tightly, use a knife to put pressure on the tender while you pull on the tendon and simultaneously ‘scrape’ the tendon with the knife.
This is tricky because the tendon is difficult to hold tightly (with finger tips) and secondly you don’t want the knife to slice through the tendon. If the knife does cut through, just expose the tendon again and try again. With practice, you’ll figure out the right amount of pressure to apply without slicing. Two other options are to use a very dull knife to do the above (because it won’t cut) or use the same sharp knife to instead fillet along the tendon. If you do this, you’ll end up with a few pieces of tender because the tendon actually runs through the middle of the tender.
But, with some practice, you’ll soon have perfectly whole tenders …
… and boneless, skin-on breasts perfect for any grilling.
Note: If, after all this, you don’t want to the skin — and you want both boneless and skinless breasts — simply pull the skin off (like a piece of duct-tape) and discard. It’s that simple.