With classic Western cuisines, a whole chicken (which isn’t actually whole, as its innards – and often the head and feet – are missing) is broken down into just a few parts: legs, thighs, wings, breast and back, with all the other bits considered “bones”.
In Japanese cuisine, at least with yakitori, a chicken – with everything intact – is broken down into many parts, and each is cooked in its own way.
There’s the tail – my favourite part because it has such a high concentration of fat and skin. There’s the thigh and inner thigh; the breast and fillet – a skinny strip of white meat that, no matter how carefully you work, will always separate from the main breast; the succulent oysters from the lower back; the skin, thyroid, wing tip, soft knee bone, ventricle and more.
In Chicken and Charcoal – Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong (2018), Matt Abergel, the mastermind behind Yardbird in Sheung Wan, shows in a series of 81 photos how to precisely butcher a chicken.
In his introduction, Abergel writes: “Every day, except Sundays, between forty-five and fifty locally reared, triple yellow chickens are slaughtered three blocks away at the Sheung Wan Market. The birds’ throats are slit, then they are bled, feathered, eviscerated and packed into individual bags before being delivered to our kitchen. Less than two hours pass between the chickens being alive and us butchering them. I know this is a luxury that I enjoy through living in Hong Kong [...] That said, if you live in a city with a sizeable Chinese, Muslim or Hispanic population, the chances are high that you will have access to a live poultry market.
“Over and above organic, free-range, hormone-free, heirloom-bred, and any of the many other labels that are put on poultry these days, I value freshness the most. In Hong Kong, freshness often has a different meaning than in the rest of the world, where supermarket ‘fresh’ chicken has most likely been dead in a package for days before it reaches the shelves. Even then, we have no idea what happened to the birds on the journey from wherever they came from to where they were slaughtered. In my opinion, picking a live bird, seeing the condition it’s in while it’s still clucking, seeing the conditions it’s about to be killed in, and meeting the person responsible for that creature’s welfare, is the best way to control the
quality of the poultry that you eat.”
In addition to showing how to butcher the chicken, Abergel explains how to season each part, and gives instructions on how to grill skewers: “start with the skin-side down over medium heat”.
Yardbird is also known for non-chicken dishes, and fans can cook their favourites: KFC (Korean fried cauliflower), corn tempura, takana mushroom udon, and Brussels sprouts with black garlic sauce and garlic chips.