How to make chicken lollipops
It's now the height of summer (at least here in the Northern hemisphere), which means outdoor bentos and picnics! Chicken wings are great finger food, but you can make them even more convenient, not to mention cute, by turning them into chicken lollipops, also known as cherrystone chicken or chicken cherries. Back in the day I used to hang around a chef (rather, he tolerated me while I pestered him with questions) who used to work in a hotel restaurant in the '80s, where he had to turn out hundreds of these little things for banquets. He could whip them out by the dozens in mere minutes, but I take a little longer. They are a bit fiddly, but not hard to do.
How to cut up a chicken wing
First let's examine a chicken wing, as it usually comes from the supermarket.
You see that it has three sections. The tapering part is the wing tip, and doesn't have much edible meat on it, so I usually freeze it and use it for making chicken stock. The middle part has two bones in it; experienced chicken-wing-dissecters can remove the smaller second bone and make a lollipop out of the remainder, but that's rather fiddly to do, so I usually use the middle part for something else, such as buffalo chicken wings. The part that we want is the third, thickest part.
So let's cut apart the wing. We need a sharp, small knife. This is a boning knife, with a tapered shape that is quite handy for various boning tasks, but you could use a straight blade knife too. It just has to be sharp. A dull blade may slip, which is dangerous!
Grab hold of the tapered wing tip and find the first joint. Cut through or to the side of the soft cartilage, rather than the bone. Your knife should go through easily.
Here's a closeup of that joint. As you see i'm cutting through the white cartilage. You might get little bits of loose cartilage here, which you should just cut off and discard.
Now cut through the second joint, in the same way, aiming for the cartilage again.
Cut apart cleanly.
And here are the 3 wing pieces. As I mentioned above, I usually freeze the wing tips to to make chicken stock with (they are wonderfuly gelationous, so are perfect for this). The other two sections can be used in any recipe that calls for wings just as-is.
Incidentally, many butchers (or rather mechanical chicken cutters or whatever that do this for supermarkets) really do this sloppily leaving bits of cartilage hanging, not to mention bone splinters. If you can do this yourself the results will be a lot neater.
How to make a chicken lollipop
Let's turn the thick piece of chicken wing into a lollipop. You'll see that it looks like a little drumstick. Grab the thin end firmly, then carefully cut through the skin surrounding the bone, using a sawing motion and turning the thing around. Don't try to force it, let the knife do the work.
Once the skin is cut all around, use your knife to scrape down the meat from the bone. You may need to cut through a couple of sinews. Push the meat down to the other end.
Using your fingers, pull the meat over the fat end of the bone so that it's inside out.
Here's a completed lollipop.
I timed myself, and I can crank these out at a rate of about 3 per minute. If you are just starting it will probably take longer, but don't rush it or you might cut yourself! (I actualy have a scar from many years ago on my thumb from where I cut it making these.)
You can cook them in any way you like - fried, roasted, with barbeque sauce, etc. I usually use my basic chicken karaage recipe (though I used canola oil/rapeseed oil rather than peanut oil for the ones in the photos here) and turn them into lollipop karaage, which is great hot or at room temperature in a bento box.
Here's a recent roadside picnic we had, with some chicken lollipop karaage and brown rice onigiri. In the background are some stewed green beans that my mother made (I'll post the recipe soon). It was really delicious, way better than bought sandwiches for sure.
And as you can see, they are very easy to grab with your fingers and nibble.