Butterflies in the Kitchen

My dad was my first cooking teacher.  Despite everything he’s taught me over the years and all the meals I’ve created, I’m sure that my cooking will never really compare to his (if you’ve had his lasagna you would understand). One of my favorites of the myriad of foods that I grew up on was his roast chicken.  It is still the best roast chicken I’ve ever had.  While I would love to be able to roast a chicken once a week I don’t always have the time.  So, I generally end up with the much faster, but equally tasty butterfly method.

I generally don’t buy chicken unless it’s whole.  I try to stick to organic chicken and the cost of organic chicken cut in pieces is disturbing on a good day.  So, I buy whole chickens and break them down myself into parts and then make stock with whatever bones are left over and whatever I have in the refrigerator vegetable drawer.  I figure it’s a two for one kind of enterprise.  It took me a few tries to get it right, but I got it right eventually.

The best thing about the butterflied method is that it is a really easy start into breaking down chickens.  You make two cuts and there’s no worry about carving when you’re done.  And it takes much less time than the full and proper roast.  In the evenings, by the time I set up the butterflied chicken and throw it in the oven (toaster oven actually if I’m just doing one chicken), I have enough time to relax for a minute, change, go pick up the kid, get back, get all the kid’s stuff unpacked and get everyone together to eat.  It looks complicated, but if you have a good pair of kitchen scissors it won’t take much time or effort at all.    …And even less effort to clean up.  If you have a remote temperature probe that sits outside of the oven, it will beep when the chicken gets to the correct temperature.  You wouldn’t even have to worry about setting a timer.

Note: pour the vermouth into a measuring cup and measure out and set aside the spices, salt and pepper for the chicken before you start so you don’t have to wash your hands a million times after you start handling the chicken.


Butterflied Chicken

1 whole chicken
1-2 tbsp kosher salt
1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp of any combination of dried spices (sumac, smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander, poultry seasoning, etc.)
3-4  sprigs tarragon
4 sprigs lemon thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large spanish onion, cut in large pieces
1 large carrot cut in pieces
1-2 stalks celery, cut in pieces
1/4 cup dry vermouth

Preheat oven to 400F.

On the sheet pan, scatter the onions,  carrots and celery and fresh herbs.

Put your whole chicken on your cutting board.  There are two big pieces of fat at the neck and “tail” ends.  Pull them out.  Flip the chicken so the breasts are down on the cutting board.

Use the kitchen scissors to cut out the backbone.  If you use the “tail” as a guide, you can just cut to the left and right of it to remove the backbone.


Rinse off the chicken under cold running water and pull off any organs you might see.  Press down (hard) between the breasts to break the breast bone then rest the butterflied chickens on top of the carrots and celery.  Flip the chickens over and pour the oil over the chicken and rub it into the skin.


Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the  salt, pepper and spices.  Tuck the wings under the bird and insert the temperature probe in the thick part of the thigh, (without touching the bone) and toss it in the oven or toaster oven if it’s big enough.

Before you close the oven door, add the vermouth to the roasting pan.

Now you are probably wondering what you’re supposed to do with that backbone and the bag of giblets (the stuff that was stuffed inside the bird).  Well, if you’re in a hurry like I usually am, throw the backbone, the neck and the gizzards in a freezer bag.  Write the date on it.  Throw it in the freezer and deal with it another day.

The chicken should be done in about an hour.  Check the temperature probe.  Serve with a salad.

NOTE: In the interest of time, you can save the drippings from the pan and make a gravy for tomorrow night’s dinner or just make one that night if you have the time.

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