Sunday, 27 April 2014

How to butterfly a chicken breast...

"It's only easy when you know how"...

'Butterflying' chicken breasts is basically opening them out, so that they're as flat and even as they can be, in order that they cook evenly. It only takes a minute or less, once you know how to do it, and saves on cooking time, giving you juicy, tender chicken which is evenly cooked through in minutes, without burning or drying out the outside layers, making it really easy and quick to grill, griddle or barbecue chicken breasts.

How to butterfly a chicken breast

Above are two chicken breasts, both the same size and weight, the only difference being that the one on the left has been 'butterflied' by opening it out so that it's approximately the same thickness all over.

These days, buying chicken breasts from the supermarket is a very hit and miss affair. If you're lucky, you'll get what you see on the right - a 'whole' breast (what is called a half breast in the USA), being the muscle from one side of the chicken's front, but minus the 'mini-fillet' (so not really 'whole' at all), which they seem to take off these days to sell separately (unless they're making up pack weights, and insidiously tucking them underneath the 'whole' breasts, unattached...). On the other hand, you might get what appear to be triangulated chunks of chicken breast - meant to look like whole breasts, from the way they're cut, and might even fool some people who don't look at them that closely, but I suspect they are cut down to a lower weight to fool us consumers that we're getting more chicken breasts for our money, whilst paying more and more per kilo, for ever-diminishing packs...

Anyhow, I digress. If you get what looks like a strangely thick elongated chicken breast, with no ridge near the middle like you can see in the above photo, then hey - it's even easier - just slice it almost in half from one side to the other, and flatten a little more if necessary, and you're done!

However, if your chicken breast looks like this (from either side!), here's how to open it out if you don't want to hammer at it with a meat mallet to flatten it. Before you start, give it a rinse and cut off any visible fat, and sharpen your sharpest knife.

How to butterfly a chicken breastPut your chicken breast onto a chopping board (rather than a plate like mine! My chopping boards are rather well used and don't look good - especially the red 'meat' board...) with the 'seam' side up. Bizarrely, most chicken breasts seem to be from the same side of the chicken that I've ever brought from a supermarket, but I prefer not to contemplate why. If yours is different, then just reverse the left/right instructions! As you can see there's a ridge of flesh (where the mini-fillet used to sit - easier to see on the previous photo), which is higher than the breast. Take your knife, and gently slice through the thickest/top part of this ridge part-way into the chicken breast - you don't want to go all the way through, because you just want to open it out. So, you'll be slicing further into the top of the ridge, than the bottom and curving into it a little, in line with the side of the chicken breast.

Fold out the cut you've made (note how I've followed the curve of the chicken breast to the right, to within about 1/2 cm of the edge of the chicken breast).

Gently apply pressure with your fingers, or the heel of your palm if necessary, to flatten out that side of the chicken breast.

Now that you've evened out the right hand side of the chicken breast, you can probably see that the rest of it is quite thick - starting from just right of the point in the middle of where you've cut into the right hand side.

Take your knife, and come in again from the side, right through the middle of where it's thickest at the top of the breast, and gently slice through, steadying the top of the breast by holding it with your hand.

How to butterfly a chicken breastWork across and down (you probably won't need to go down quite as far as the bottom of the breast - just try to go across evenly, horizontally), using the tip of the knife once you've cut through the top and you're inside, and curving in line with the left hand side of the breast so it's an even thickness as far as possible.

How to butterfly a chicken breast
Open out the cut that you've made - and if you see that any parts of the chicken breast are particularly thicker than others, then open them out further, or score down them lightly.


Use the heel of your hand to gently press the butterflied chicken breast into an even thickness, if necessary - or if you prefer, put some clingfilm over the top and use a meat mallet or rolling pin to gently bat it out to an even layer, but you shouldn't have to do an awful lot.

And you're done! Season, or rub, or marinade, then throw onto the griddle or barbecue or under the grill etc.

If I'm cooking the chicken on a griddle, when I turn it over, I like to add a tbsp or two of water and immediately put a lid (or you could use metal tray, if you don't have a lid big enough to cover your griddle pan - but use oven gloves to take it off!) over the top, so that the steam helps it to finish cooking through quickly and keeps it moist.

Turkish-marinated Griddled Chicken

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