THESE ARE the times that try our wallets and mine is no exception. Each month I watch the cost of food rise, and each month I try to find some shopping or cooking technique that will hold down the expense of feeding my family without compromising the quality of our meals. Fortunately, there is a great deal that can be done in this area, and one of the most effective is to undertake some of the simple meat and poultry cutting and boning tasks that are usually performed by your butcher.

The United States Department of Agriculture tells us that the average American family consumes approximately 2.5 chickens each week and that these chickens weight about 3.7 pounds each. That's about nine pounds of chicken per week. Most of these chickens have been cut up by a butcher whose charge for this service ranges from 15 to 40 cents per pound. At the lowest figure, you are still talking about a cost of well over $100 a year. And this does not deal with the fact that when your butcher does the cutting you very often do not get all the parts of the chicken to take home. The neck, backbone, and other parts of the bird are frequently not delivered to you when you purchase poultry that is precut. What an incredible waste! These parts, covered with water and simmered 2 hours, then strained, will give you a splendid chicken broth which now sells in 13 3/4-ounce cans for about 65 cents. s

To do some simple poultry disjointing, you will need a quick lesson in chicken cutting with a boning knife. First, the knife: The rule in selecting a boning knife is the bigger the animal to be boned, the more ridged the blade. A flexible blade striking against a hard bone can pop back at you or even snap off. A rigid blade used on delicate bones will slice them apart. oA flexible blade is more responsive: It will give greater sensitivity to your hand as you work with delicate foul.

Most boning knives have a distinct wavy shape that narrows after the point and widens out again just before the handle. The blade should be made of high-carbon, stainless steel. The handle should have a textured surface that will not become slippery in wet hands. Make sure there is no gap at the joint between the blade and handle that will catch bits of food. Some best of class in boning knives are as follows:

Zanger: Stainless steel blade with rosewood handle, nickel-silver rivets; 11 inches long overall, about $8.

Tommer: High-carbon steel alloy blade has handcrafted walnut handle, three brass rivets, 5-inch blade, about $9.

Case Classic: 5 1/2 inch, high-carbon steel blade, moisture-proof, laminated hardwood handle with fingergrips, triple rivets, about $14.50.

Wusthof; High-carbon steel blade with black wooden handle; nickel-silver rivets; 11 1/4 inches long. $20.

Henckels Four Star: Hand-boned blade of Friodur high-carbon steel, extended steel core of the blade deeply penetrates into the black polypropylene handle, about $27.

The simplest method of disjointing a chicken that I know is as follows:

Remove the tip of each wing at the first joint.

Pull the wing up to see where the joint is located. Then cut through and separate the wing.

Working to one side of the backbone cut through the entire chicken until it is divided in half.

Cut the backbone off.

Slice through the skin around the leg and then through the joint until the leg comes away from the body.Cut off the tip of the leg.

Cut the breasts and legs in half.

An excellent alternative system for mastering the chicken disjointing technique is to quite simply ask your butcher to show it to you. Most good butchers are overjoyed to display their skills.