April 14, 2013

Ballotine of Chicken

For the April Daring Cooks Challenge, Lisa from Parsley,Sage and Sweet has challenged us to debone a whole chicken, using this video by Jacques Pepin as our guide; then stuff it, tie it and roast it, to create a Chicken Ballotine.

I'm a list maker. I have a to do list, of course. And a list of recipes to try, restaurants to sample, books to read, clothes to buy, vacations to take, things to pack, and gifts to give. You get the idea. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed I calm myself down by making a list of lists I need to make. Yes, really.

So maybe it's no surprise that I have a list of cooking techniques to master. Or at least try.

That list looks something like this:

  • Break down a whole chicken into 8 pieces
  • Filet a fish
  • Make a tender pie crust
  • Make mayonnaise from scratch
  • Make a loaf of bread
  • Debone a chicken

So I was excited when I read this month's Daring Cook's challenge -- deboning, stuffing, tying and roasting a whole chicken! If you're not a list maker, you may not understand. But there is something immensely satisfying about crossing something off a to do list.

Most Daring Cook's Challenges involve one or more recipes and then photos illustrating the technique. But this one took more than photos. It required a video. And not just any video. A video featuring cooking legend Jacques Pepin. (If you're interested in watching the video, you can view it here.)

He made it look so easy. I watched the video a couple of times and felt ready to go. I gathered my knives, cutting board and kitchen towels. I had my laptop, video cued up, at the ready. And off I went.

It was a bit of a mess. I had to keep returning to the video for guidance and stopping to take pictures — not an easy task when you're working with raw chicken. I washed and dried my hands over and over so I could pick up my camera and hit rewind on my laptop without contaminating the entire kitchen.

At one point in the video Jacques looks up at the camera and says (with a straight face!) "It should not take you much more than a minute to bone out a chicken." Maybe if you're a classically trained French chef who regularly cooked alongside Julia Child. It probably took me closer to 45.

It wasn't pretty. And it wasn't as easy as Jacques made it look. There were a few little bones that didn't want to leave their cozy, chicken home. At these points, I admit, Jacques' finesse and technique gave way to my brute force. But in the end, the chicken was deboned. And I was able to pick up my pencil and do this:

  • Debone a chicken

I started with this whole chicken. 

First, I cut off the wings and what I believed fervently hoped to be the wish bone (it wasn't).

I put the chicken breast-side down, and cut a slit down the back.

Now it was time for the main event, pulling out the carcass. Doing that, according to Jacques, barely involved the knife. In fact, the knife would only be used to cut through four joints — the two shoulder joints and the two hip joints. And you don't need a lot of force, either. When you find that sweet spot, the knife slides right into the joint and separates it away. Once the joints are dealt with, it's more a matter of peeling the meat off the carcass than cutting anything away. 

Here's what it looked like once the carcass was out.

The hardest part was probably removing the bone from the leg and thigh. Let's just say it involved a lot of scraping. It wasn't pretty. Not while I was doing it. Or, really, even once I was finished. I'll spare you that picture and just show you what the chicken looked like when all the bones were out.

The bones!

Finally, it was time to stuff the bird. The stuffing was a simple mixture of spinach, garlic, cheese, and cubed bread. I spread the stuffing over the chicken and down into the leg/thigh area.

Then rolled the chicken up, slightly overlapping the sides so the stuffing couldn't escape.

All tied up with kitchen string.

Glazed with melted butter, salt and pepper. Then into the oven she went.

Only to emerge an hour later, beautifully golden and perfectly cooked.

Sliced. And ready to serve.

Ballotine of Chicken

1 whole chicken (about 3-3/4 pounds), boned
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Spinach, Cheese, and Bread Stuffing (see recipe below)
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup dry red
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1.    Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2.    Lay the chicken skin side down on the work surface and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Spread the cool spinach, bread and cheese mixture evenly over the chicken, stuffing the legs too.

3.    Roll the chicken up, tie it with kitchen string, and place it in a roasting pan.

4.    Roast the ballotine for about 1 hour or until the temperature is 160-165 degrees F in the center of the ballotine. Lift it from the pan and place it on a platter.

For the sauce:

5.    Skim off and discard most of the fat from the drippings in the pan. Add the water and wine to the drippings to deglaze the pan, and heat over medium heat, stirring to loosen and melt the solidified juices.

6.    Strain the juices into a saucepan. Add the celery, onion, and carrot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and soy sauce and bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring, to thicken it. Remove from the heat.

7.    Transfer the ballotine to a cutting board and remove the string. Cut half of it into 4 or 5 slices. Return the uncut half of the ballotine to the serving platter and arrange the cut slices in front of it. Serve with sauce. Cut additional slices of ballotine as needed at the table.

Spinach, Cheese, and Bread Stuffing

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
5 ounces baby spinach leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (grated Gruyère or mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups cubed bread

1.    Heat the oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add the garlic, spinach, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute to soften the garlic and wilt the spinach.

2.    Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

3.    Stir in the cheese and cubed bread.

Serves 4 to 6


  1. I'm completely amazed by your awesome step-by=step photos that you did by yourself - so much effort went into just that alone! When it comes to deboning the chicken, I have to keep going without taking my mind off the task at hand. I can't multitask during a deboning lol In any event..your ballotine looks phenomenal and I'm so glad yu got to cross deboning a chicken off your list! Thanks so much for taking part in my challenge!

  2. Oh, I totally get the list thing. This one wouldn't have made my list, but I am glad it did.

    ANd how could anyone do this in a minute? I think it took me about 20 minutes - and that is only because I had my daughter helping out with rewinding and playing the video so that I didn't have to stop and do it.

    Great job! That spinach stuffing was good, wasn't it?

  3. It is great to get to cross off an item from a to-do-list!!! Your final bird looks wonderful, kudos to you! A wonderful result well done. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia. OBTW I found the quails just as easy as the chicken.

  4. Beautiful! I agree that it is so satisfying to cross things off of a list. Your bird is lovely. Great job!

  5. This looks gorgeous! I've contemplated making an 'ambitious cooking' list, but it generally scares me too much. Had I done it, this would definitely have been on it, and I'd have been able to cross it off - ah well - a missed opportunity! Your ballotine looks awesome - it's a fantastic way to cook chicken, and you don't have to worry about it not being done in the middle, particularly in you use a non-meat stuffing, which is just genius - I am a convert!

  6. Umila your roast looks amazing!!! : ) And I can't believe you stopped to take pictures of every step -- my hands were way too gooey to even consider it! : )
    I am also a list-maker, so I understand that satisfaction completely. I'm a little sad I hadn't known about your list beforehand though -- because you know what goes wonderfully well with leftover chicken? Homemade mayonnaise...

  7. G'day! So THAT'S how I was supposed to do it lol! GREAT job! Looks delish and fantastic too! Love the step by step photos! Well done and thank you!
    Cheers! Joanne

  8. Nice pictures ! I didn't realized there were so many bones in the chicken (maybe because mine was smaller), anyway, you did a very very good job ! What did you think about the spinach/cheese stuffing? I did it, I think it tasted really good. congrats!

  9. Congratulations on your list milestone :) I think this task would never have featured on my list if it wasn't for this challenge. I'm glad I learned it though and now it will go to my list as "debone a chicken again"
    Love your step by step photos, a job realy well done!


I'd love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.