10 Important Things We Learned Watching Jacques Pépin Debone a Chicken

September  7, 2016

Jacques Pépin was digging through our staff kitchen yesterday with a glass of white wine nearby. He was looking for something to stuff a chicken with (tortillas, pancetta, and Swiss cheese won), and he was wearing an apron with a chicken on it.

Jacques surrounded by chickens. Photo by James Ransom

He drew that apron's chicken—because he needed to be even more lovable—along with all the chicks and vegetables in his new book, Poulets & Legumes, available at Sur La Table.

Jacques went on Facebook Live to teach us how to debone a chicken—a dull but necessary skill he manages to make soothing and fascinating and funny to learn about. While he was at it, though, he couldn't not share some life wisdom. Watch the full Facebook Live for a feel—and borrow a couple of our takeaways, below.

1. Use the weight of the chicken to break it apart: Keep the body on the cutting board and let gravity help you separate the wings and legs.

2. You debone an uncooked and cooked chicken the same way.

3. Debone with any sharp knife. He mostly used a paring knife, instead of what you might expect: a chef’s knife.

4. Remove the sinew in a chicken fillet by holding down the end of the sinew and scraping the fillet off the sinew with your knife.

5. His favorite way to prepare chicken is… a classic roast chicken! (Did you guess correctly?)

6. Drizzle chicken juices on a salad. The mix of fat and juices with fresh lettuces is one of his favorites.

7. For his 50th wedding anniversary next week, he’ll be making his wife’s favorite: bread and butter pudding.

8. Use what you have. Jacques saw tortillas and said, I can stuff a turkey with that!

9. Always make a recipe as it’s written first. The next time, and the next time, continue to rework it as you like. This is how new dishes are born—and how he likes to be creative in the kitchen.

10. Jacques can debone a chicken without looking. Basically. Also, he can draw. Also, we could listen to him for hours.

Tell us about your roast chicken rituals in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sosyphus42
  • amysarah
  • HalfPint
  • Robin Chesser
    Robin Chesser
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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Sosyphus42 September 11, 2016
I have one medium-to-large rant! Recipes that start with a whole chicken by and large call for a chicken in the 3 1/2 to 4 lb range. Finding one in that size range has become virtually impossible. According to a spokesperson for Foster Farms, chicken ranchers can make more money by feeding the chickens for a few more days and shipping them out at 5 to 6 lbs. Cost- benefit ratio in favor of bigger chickens. Interesting side note: Supermarkets selling in-store rotisserie chickens use the smaller birds but can't/don't want to sell them to the public uncooked. ("The Deli section is a separate department and they get their birds from a different supplier."). Unfortunately, those larger birds don't roast the same as the smaller ones. They require a bit of extra work and often overcook outside and undercook inside,
amysarah September 7, 2016
Jacques Pepin is the real deal - from way before celeb-TV chefs, except JC of course. La Methode was one of my first cookbooks - dating myself, but it was fairly new at the time. I especially appreciate his graciousness/lack of arrogance - which only comes from true confidence and skill, and is so often sorely lacking in online cooking discussions these days. (And yes to roast chicken pan drippings on soft lettuce - really the best accompaniment of all.)
HalfPint September 7, 2016
I met Jacques Pepin (and Claudine) many years ago at a PBS luncheon to celebrate the completion of filming for the then-current season of Jacques & Claudine cooking show. He was adorable, such a generous person. He signed and took pictures with anyone who asked. No gigantic ego. My friend has that picture in her living room to this day. He is so approachable. I think that's his best talent (other than the culinary one).

Chicken Ritual: I like roast chicken too, especially the Chinese Soy Sauce roast chicken that you can get at the 99 Ranch Market.
Robin C. September 7, 2016
I was thrilled he answered my question, which was : What is your favorite chicken dish!
Smaug September 7, 2016
I can't speak for Pepin's food, since he refuses to come over and cook dinner, but, during a brief phase where I watched TV chefs, he was the only one that really impressed me with his technique. The stuff he does with that funny little knife are both amazing and terrifying.
Tom September 11, 2016
When I first had an interest in cooking, he was on TV before a live audience. He chopped an onion in about 5 seconds. As he was doing it, he said "you could also use a food processor, but I don't have the time".
ChefJune September 7, 2016
I'm so glad you all had the opportunity to spend that time with Jacques. He is so dear and so brilliant, and sadly, we will not have him around forever, so it's wonderful you got to really see him in action. For us cooks, he is a National Treasure for sure.