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What happened to chicken bones?

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

And the skin too come to that. Have we come full circle? Back to the days when you could only buy whole chickens and so if you wanted chicken pieces you had to cut up the chicken yourself. And you usually left the bone in because it was too hard to take it out. Then when you had cooked your chicken you made the bones into stock. Well I did. Obviously lots of people just throw the bones away. And even if you do make stock, you still have to throw the bones away eventually anyway.

And did you know that a recent scientific study has claimed that we are now in the age of the Anthropocine - the age of humans - and that one of the enduring things that will be found in the fossil record - apart from tin cans, plastic everything and so on - is fossilised chicken bones. In 2018 according to the New Scientist, 60 billion were slaughtered for human consumption every year.

"Most chicken carcasses are thrown into landfill, where the oxygen-free conditions tend to mummify organic matter. That means they have the potential to fossilise and remain preserved for millions of years." The New Scientist

Which is all very interesting, (and appalling really) as is the evolution of the farmed chicken, but not really what I was seeking an answer to. Another time perhaps.

No, today I was looking for an answer to the question of why it is becoming increasingly difficult - no impossible if you only shop in the major supermarkets - to buy chicken breasts and thighs with the bone in. You can get drumsticks - the legs - or the wings, but no breasts or thighs. And there is no skin on them either. Recently I have also not seen any chicken Marylands in the shops , but maybe I was just looking in the wrong place. So if you want chicken pieces with bones in and skin on then you need to buy a whole chicken. Just like the good old days!

You can buy chicken necks - I guess this is for dogs, or for making stock. And sometimes I have even seen chicken carcasses for sale - presumably for making stock. But not breasts or thighs.

The way chicken has been sold has changed a great deal in my lifetime. As has the chicken itself. When I was very young I remember helping my grandmother pluck a chicken in her garden. I also remember my Yorkshire aunt having to gut a chicken - fascinating in a yucky sort of way to a young child to see different stages of eggs within the bird. Yes there were eggs. A few years later the chickens would be gutted and defeathered before you bought them, but the heads were often still on. You would see them hanging in rows in butchers' shops. It all sounds very medieval today but that's how it was back then. I'm talking about the 1950s here.

Then came the supermarket and the chicken no longer hung in rows, but were neatly packaged in plastic. But whole. This is when I began buying chicken, so all those 1001 ways with chicken that a friend gently teased me about and which I prepared, were made with whole chickens, occasionally cooked whole, but more often cut into pieces with my French poultry shears - a gift from my Paris exchange family.

The next step was to be able to buy the chicken cut up - either as a whole chicken, or as the various pieces - but still with the skin on and bones in. I should also say that the birds were also gradually getting bigger, until today they are four or five times bigger than the chickens of the 1950s. Indeed it's quite hard to find a small one.

I'm not quite sure when but at some point chicken wings cooked in various ways, most often Asian, became a big thing and you started to be able to buy big packs of chicken wings, small ones too. Ditto for drumsticks. Breasts and thighs however, were expensively almost singular. In fact I think for a time you could not buy thighs as they were always attached to the legs. I now find I am not sure whether the skin disappeared first, or the bones, or whether they disappeared at the same time. For a while though you could get whole chickens, chicken pieces of various kinds, skin on, skin off, bones in, bones off. Which it seems to me were the good times.

Today - you can get breast and thigh fillets - no skin; drumsticks, skin and bone intact; ditto for wings; sometimes chicken tenderloins - the skinny bit of the breast; and sometimes chicken Marylands which consist of the leg, and thigh; and whole chickens. We have come full circle. If you want boned breast or thigh - buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. For my 60th birthday dear friends gave me some very superior French chicken shears, which I, somewhat ashamedly, rarely used. Today I am beginning to use them again.

I have tried to find why the bones have disappeared, but to no avail. I can only assume that most of us do not want the bones. Demand and supply. It is much more convenient and possibly rather more flexible to work with just fillets. Skin too has become an unhealthy thing. All that fat is not good for you. Never mind that the gurus say that chicken tastes better if it is cooked with the bones still in it, and never mind that crisp chicken skin is wonderfully tasty. If you know the real reason I would love to know.

And where do all those carcasses go? Do they get thrown away, or are they sold to the chicken stock manufacturers? The skin too?

However, I, for one am perfectly happy to go back to buying whole chickens. It's cheaper apart from anything else, and I can make chicken stock from the remains.



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