Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On the dissection of chicken parts

In my 9th grade biology class, headed up by the incomparable Mrs. Barker (who used to ask us to save the fresh cow hearts we dissected, so that she could make stew with them), one of the first things we dissected was a fresh chicken wing. For many of us, this was less objectionable than the ubiquitous formaldehyde-preserved frog or pig fetus, as they were just supermarket-bought chicken wings that would have gone to someone's dinner plate anyway. And when we actually dove in and started messing around with all the tendons and such, we did just that: messed around. Several of us found tendons that, if pulled correctly, made the wing "flap." The sight of ten or twelve chicken wings flapping like mad across the room was the source of much hilarity, until Mrs. Barker told us to bugger off. (I'm not being pretentious, she really did say that--she was British.)

The chicken wing was fine, and an okay lesson, but something occurred to me twice in the last few days--first while I was enjoying the picking-over of a delicious chicken I'd roasted the night before, and again that evening as I was painstakingly de-boning four whole chicken legs.

To anyone who has not roasted his or her own chicken, or who has never had the pleasure of using one's fingers to pick every last tidbit of meat off the bones, I say, you are missing out on one of life's greatest pleasures. But my point is not the joys of roasted chickens, but rather their practicality. As I was disassembling the legs and wings of this most recent bird (no, Amanda, he or she did not have a name--I've given up on naming all the birds I roast), I was struck by how neat and tidy all the muscles are after they're cooked. They seem to become nicely self-contained, and even retain most of their shape when separated from their neighbors. Surely this tidiness would lend itself well to dissection, which (as far as I remember) is interested in identifying various parts of the dissectee? I decided to withhold my verdict until that evening, when I would be doing some raw-chicken dissecting of my own.

Have you ever de-boned raw chicken legs? They are complicated little beasts--there are all sorts of individual muscles and tendons in the drumstick alone, before you even get to the thigh. After spending 10 minutes on the first one and hardly getting anywhere, I considered cheating and going to the store for chicken breasts; but I am reading Jeffrey Steingarten's laugh-out-loud book It Must Have Been Something I Ate, and had just finished the chapter on coq au vin, in which he writes at length about why you should always use dark meat in stew-type dishes, never breast meat, as the latter will almost certainly end up dry and stringy. So, assured by Mr. Steingarten that dark meat is the way to go, I persevered. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I had to do four of them, and after two or three, I was feeling pretty comfortable with my improvised technique. [As my luck would have it, the fourth had a broken thigh bone, which made things awfully messy--oh well.]

By the end, though, I was convinced that as far as classroom dissection of raw chicken parts goes, cooked is the way to go. I realize that for those who are aspiring doctors or veterinarians or medical examiners or other sorts of people who need to be familiar (and comfortable) with raw meat and other organs, some (extensive) degree of dissection must be done on uncooked subjects. But, really, for a 9th grade biology class--where all you're really worried about is showing students that muscles connect to tendons connect to bone, and there's cartilage between bones, and what not--why not use a cooked chicken?

While you're at it, why not use a whole cooked chicken? There's all sorts of great anatomy to be found in a chicken (I know this because I have studied chickens extensively, particularly in the field of how to maximize how much meat you get off the bird). Legs, wings, breast, and how they connect up together, all presented in nice, neat little bundles of muscle that don't ooze into each other when you touch them.

And hey! Lunch!


telemarketing mortgage lead said...

wow that looks so delicious woah..