To judge the age of a chicken, touch the end of the breastbone. If it is still cartilaginous, and bends easily from side to side, the meat of the chicken will be tender. If the cartilage has hardened to bone, the bird is over a year old, and should be used only for the purposes which fowls serve. The skin of the chicken should be firm, smooth and white, the feet soft, the legs smooth and yellow, the spurs small, the eyes bright and full, the comb red. On young chickens there are pin-feathers; on fowls, there are long hairs. The dry-picked chickens are preferable to those which are scalded. It is not easy to find all the conditions right in our markets, which are mostly supplied with frozen poultry, and one is obliged to rely very much on the honesty of the poulterer. Chicken, to be perfectly wholesome and good-flavored, should be drawn as soon as killed; but here again we are subject to the customs of our markets, and are obliged to buy poultry which has not only been killed, but undrawn, for an indefinite time. It is presumable, however, that poultry sent to market is frozen shortly after being killed, and it does not deteriorate while frozen. It should be drawn at once after it comes to the kitchen, without waiting for the time to prepare it for cooking.
First, remove any pin-feathers; then singe off the hairs. This is done best over an alcohol flame. Put one or two tablespoonfuls of alcohol into a plate or saucer and ignite it. (Wood alcohol is inexpensive, and besides serving this purpose very well may be used also in the chafing-dish and tea-kettle lamps.) If alcohol is not at hand, use lighted paper, but take care not to smoke the chicken. Hold the fowl by the head and feet, and turn it constantly, exposing every part to the flame. After singeing, wash the outside of the chicken thoroughly with a cloth and bowl of water. The skin will become several degrees whiter when freed from dust and the marks of much handling. Do not place the chicken in the bowl of water, or at any time allow the meat to soak, as that will extract its flavor. After the chicken is drawn, it should only be wiped out with a wet cloth. If it is properly drawn there will be nothing unclean to wash away from the inside. After the skin of the chicken is cleaned, cut off the head, cut the skin down the back of the neck, turn it over while you remove carefully the crop and windpipe, and cut off the neck close to the body, leaving the skin to fold over the opening. Next take the leg, bend it back slightly, and carefully cut the skin on the joint, just enough to expose the sinews without cutting them; run a skewer or fork under them, one at a time, and draw them out; five or eight of them can be easily removed after a little practice. The one on the back of the leg is particularly large and strong. These sinews are very tough and almost bony after cooking, especially in turkeys, but if they are removed the meat of the drumstick is quite as good as that of the second joint. After the sinews are drawn, break the leg off at the joint, the sinews hanging to it. Cut a small opening under the rump; run a finger around close to the body to loosen the entrails. Do the same at the neck opening. Carefully draw them out, in one solid mass, without any part being broken; cut around the vent to free the large intestine. If by any mischance the gall or intestines should be broken, the inside of the chicken must be washed at once; otherwise only wipe it out with a wet cloth, as directed above. Cut the oil sack away from the rump. Cut the gall carefully off the liver; cut the outer coat of the gizzard and draw it carefully away from the inner sack, leaving the sack unbroken. Open the heart and wash away the clot of blood. The heart, liver, and gizzard are the giblets. All poultry and birds are dressed in the same way.