A POUND OF BUTTER: On How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken Like You’re Chef Escoffier

by Owen Lightly | This old-school method for breaking down a chicken into 8 bone-in parts is some straight up Escoffier shit. He had dozens of recipes that all started with sautéed chicken as the base – one might be garnished with truffles, another seasoned with curry, another deglazed with port….you get the idea.

Though roasting whole is a beautiful way to cook chicken, this technique allows you to get a nice sear on each piece and cook it until it is perfectly done. I often use this method for larger parties, as I feel it gives me more control, and also the added benefit of using the wings and backs for the sauce.

Chicken Sauté a la Escoffier

Ingredients

· 1 piece 4-5 pound free range chicken from a trusted supplier

· neutral oil for sautéing (grapeseed is preferable, but vegetable oil is fine)

· 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the back of a knife

· 2 sprigs thyme

· 2 tablespoons butter

· salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and dry off the chicken before butchering. Cut off the wing tips and the first joint of the wing and reserve for stock. Gently separate the leg from the carcass with your hand and cut the skin to the point where the leg attaches. Flip the chicken over, pop the leg joint out from carcass and remove the leg with your knife, being careful to preserve the oyster (tender, succulent nugget of meat where the leg meets the body). Repeat with the other leg.

Cut each leg through the joint into 2 pieces: the thigh and drumstick.

Now remove the wishbone. Think of it as an arrow pointing towards the top of the breast. Feel for it with your fingers and then make an incision on either side of the neck hole. Using your fingers again, reach into the incision and wiggle the bone out (sometimes you have to be a little forceful). This makes it much easier to remove the maximum amount of breast meat.

Now stand the carcass up and cut through the ribcage, removing the breast from the back. Reserve the back for stock.

Cutting through the breast bone, separate the two breast halves. Now cut the breast into two pieces, powering through the bone like a champion with your not so favorite knife.

Heat up a large skillet over high heat with 2 tablespoons of oil until just smoking. Season each piece of chicken liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place skin side down in the pan. It should be very hot, occasionally spitting hot oil directly in your face – this means you’r doing it right! Without this aggressive heat, the chicken runs the risk of poaching in the crowded pan rather than getting maximum colour and flavour. After a few minutes turn over a piece of chicken to inspect. If it is a deep golden brown, flip over the rest of the pieces and place in the oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and check the breast pieces with a thermometer (take out at 145-150°F), or the touch test. Once the breast pieces are done, remove them from the pan and put the leg pieces back in the over for another 5-10 minutes to finish cooking. Remove the pan from the oven again and check for doneness. Briefly put the breast pieces back in the pan with the garlic cloves, thyme and butter and baste the chicken with the foaming butter for 1-2 minutes. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve with a hearty side dish (like the brussel sprouts below!) and a nice green salad.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Potatoes and Toasted Almonds

“Ah, the young of the cabbage” – My friend Rich’s grandpa.

Once you roast brussel sprouts, you will never boil them ever again. Something akin to alchemy, the roasting process does wonders for these petite cabbages, which come out of the oven crispy, caramelized and delicious. Paired with potatoes and toasted almonds they are worthy winter side dish to accompany the chicken. Yields 4 servings.

Ingredients

2 pounds / 900 grams white nugget potatoes, washed and halved
· 1 head garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled

· 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

· 2 pounds / 900 grams brussel sprouts, stems trimmed and halved

· extra virgin olive oil

· salt and black pepper, to taste

· ¾ cup whole blanched almonds

· extra virgin olive oil

· squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Method

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the potatoes in a mixing bowl and toss with the garlic cloves, thyme leaves, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until nicely caramelized and tender.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, toast the almonds on another small sheet pan until just beginning to brown, approximately 5-10 minutes.

3. Heat a large oven safe frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and add the brussel sprouts cut side down to the hot pan. Resist the urge to shake the pan, and cook the brussel sprouts for 1-2 minutes untouched. Turn one over and inspect for some thorough caramelization. Flip the sprouts over and pop the pan into the over for 5-7 minutes, or until crispy and brown on the outside and just tender at the core.

4. Combine the roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts together and season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Plate on a large platter and garnish with the toasted almonds and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(photos by Michael Sider)

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Owen Lightly is the founder of Butter On The Endive, a full service catering company dedicated to providing inspired food experiences to its clients. A veteran member of many local kitchen teams (among them Aurora Bistro, West, Au Petit Chavignol, Araxi, and Market), he pens Scout’s new Pound Of Butter food column. Read our interview with him here.

One Response to “A POUND OF BUTTER: On How To Cut Up A Whole Chicken Like You’re Chef Escoffier”

  1. lyndsay on December 7th, 2011 5:59 pm

    bookmarked! thank you!