Published September 1, 1994.
Whether grilled, roasted, broiled, or sautéed, a butterflied chicken cooks faster and more evenly than a traditional whole bird.
The first question to ask is, where should the chicken be split? Most recipes called for the bird to be split down the back, but a few call for splitting the breast. Was it necessary to cut slits on either side of the breast for each leg? And did we really need to pound the chicken after we butterflied it, or was it enough to just flatten it with our hands? Was it possible to season the chicken with herbs and garlic without having them burn when cooked at high heat? Did pressing the bird down with a weight provide benefits when sautéing or grilling butterflied chicken? And if weighting was better, what was the simplest way to do it? Most recipes recommended bricks or a large can. But there had to be a better solution than scrounging the basement for dirty bricks or the cabinets for 10 pounds' worth of cans.
Removing the backbone from a whole chicken--a process known as butterflying--may seem like an unnecessary and time-consuming process. But we have found that this relatively quick and simple procedure, which yields a bird of more even thickness, provides many benefits. A flattened 3-pound chicken cooks in half an hour or less versus at least 45 minutes for a traditionally roasted bird. In addition, all the parts of a flattened bird--breast as well as legs--get done at the same time. Finally, unlike a whole roasted chicken, the butterfly cut is a breeze to separate into sections. Won over by the virtues of this technique, we set out to test various methods by which butterflied chicken can be cooked. Our purpose was to work out the kinks in each method and determine if there were some general rules that applied to all of them.
Start by splitting the chicken at the back rather than the breast. Tuck the legs under to make for better presentation. We thought pounding the chicken might decrease cooking time, but it made no noticeable difference. However, it was easier to weight a chicken that had been pounded to a uniform thickness. We also liked the look of the really flattened chicken. Seasoning the outside of the chicken with herbs or garlic, regardless of the cooking method, proved to be pointless. Because each technique required high heat, the herbs charred and the garlic burned. But butterflied chickens are especially easy to season under the skin. We found grilling, broiling, sautéing, and roasting to produce excellent results. The following recipes provide an example of each cooking technique, but they're intended only to get you started. Virtually any grilled, broiled, roasted, or sautéed chicken recipe (excluding those for boneless, skinless chicken breasts) can be tailored to one of these cooking methods.list of recipes