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How To Butterfly Chicken Breasts

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Chef Mark Elia of The Culinary Institute of America demonstrates how to butterfly chicken breasts, a useful technique for making thin cutlets suitable for rolling or breading. First, he cleans any skin, cartilage, and fat off of the breast. He's using a whole breast, so he cuts the breast into two halves, but if you buy precut skinless breasts at the market, you can skip this step.

Use a filet knife, he starts from the narrow end of the lobe and slices halfway through the thickness of the chicken, cutting it almost all the way through. About 1/2 inch from the end of the breast, he stops cutting and spreads the breast open like the pages of a book so he has one large piece.

If you want the larger piece, lay the breast inside a piece of plastic wrap, leaving room on the ends for expansion. Chef Elia uses a mallet to pound out the chicken. This breaks up the fibers and gives you a nice, thin piece of meat that can be rolled or used for cutlets. For smaller pieces, you can cut the butterflied piece in half, then wrap and pound in the same manner.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Mark Elia from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm now going to show you this kitchen basic: how to butterfly a boneless chicken breast.

The reason we would butterfly a boneless chicken breast is to bring it down to a more workable thickness so that we could use it for a chicken rollatini, or a chicken marsala, or a chicken parmesan. The chicken breast we have here is exactly what you would buy at your grocery store or local butcher.

The first step is to see that your chicken is clean of any skin or fat. Next, just cut the entire breast in two pieces down the center. What you'll see here is some cartilage. If you have any cartilage left over in your chicken breast, you can just take a knife and slice it right off.

The butterflying procedure can be done very easily with any eight-inch fillet knife, or even an eight-inch or ten-inch kitchen knife. Either one will work just fine. I'm going to use the eight-inch fillet knife. We'll bring the chicken breast to the edge of the table, and starting from the narrow end of the lobe, which is this side here, we will cut horizontally halfway through the thickness of the chicken breast, sliding your knife back and forth. We'll cut just about all the way through, so you can lay it open and have one large breast.

Again, with the other side, cut right through the middle, as close to the middle as you can, as flat and even as you can hold the knife. Just press through and do not go all the way through - just stop so there's about half an inch of meat holding on, and you can lay the breast open, and you have a butterflied breast.

Once we have the breast laid open nice and flat, there are two things we could do. If we want a larger piece we can leave it whole, take a simple piece of plastic wrap, stretch it across your table, and lay your chicken breast inside the plastic wrap. You can then fold it over - not tightly; we need to leave a little room in the plastic wrap on the ends, for expansion. If you happen to have an old wooden mallet from your grandfather who was a butcher, this is what it would look like. If not, a rolling pin will work just fine. All we're going to do right now is pound down; we've not only broken the fibers but we've also flattened it out so they're all even. Now we have a piece of boneless chicken breast that can be rolled for a rollatini, or can be used for cutlets.

If you needed to make smaller pieces, you could take your butterflied breast and cut it again in half, at the point where we folded it open. Once again placing it in plastic wrap, leaving myself a little more room, I'll show you that if you don't have a mallet, you can use a rolling pin. Just hammer down the same way. We unwrap our plastic, and we have a nice thin piece of boneless chicken breast. This is small enough and thin enough that it can be stuffed and rolled, like a nice chicken rollatini.

And this is how we butterfly a boneless chicken breast.