Many years ago, so many that I have to think really hard about just how long ago it really was, I decided that it would be so much cheaper if I bought whole chickens instead of pre-cut pieces. So in the name of all that is thrifty, I set out to learn how to cut up a chicken all by myself. I only did it once. The whole thing was so traumatic that I gave myself hives and had to take two Benadryl. Never again, I decided. If I couldn’t afford to buy the chicken pieces, then we just wouldn’t eat chicken. So we didn’t.
Fast forward thirteen years to last fall when I happened to catch an episode of Martha Stewart’s Cooking School dedicated to butchering meats. She made cutting up a whole chicken look as easy as, well, baking a cake. I could do this, and I did. And even better, I did it without getting hives. I’d conquered my great chicken gross-out block, so I was done.
Or so I thought until I opened this April’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge where Lisa from Parsley, Sage and Sweet 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.
Do What? To make WHAT?
Oh, yeah. I did sort of join the Daring Cooks, didn’t I?
So, like, I did it. I went out, bought a whole chicken, wrapped my laptop and mouse in miles of plastic wrap, queued up Jacques, sharpened my knives, and went to work.
And I did it. I felt so Julie Powell, except it wasn’t a duck, she probably did it better, and I probably cursed less. At least, that’s what my imagination tells me.
All right, now. I’ve told you that the first time I ever cut up a chicken, I gave myself hives. And deboning a chicken is about five times ickier, for sure. But pictures are what I do. (Thanks, Mom, for the pictures!) I promise to keep them to as much of a minimum as I can, and if you aren’t keen on checking out photos of a cut up chicken, well, you might want to skip this post.
Chicken Ballotine with Apple-Sausage Stuffing
chicken preparation from Jacques Pepin, chicken roasting method adapted from Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Ballotine with Spinach Filling , stuffing recipe heavily adapted from Southern Living’s “Easy Sausage-Cornbread Stuffed Apples“
½ lb. pork sausage
1 tbsp. butter (optional)
1 medium onion, diced
1 royal gala apple, diced ½ inch pieces
1 (6 oz.) pkg. stuffing mix, prepared according to package directions
1- 4 ½ to 5 lb. whole chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the Stuffing:
Dice the onion.
Dice the apple.
Brown the sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage,
but leave the grease in the skillet. Add butter only if there are not enough sausage drippings for cooking the apple and onion.
Toss the apples and onions into the skillet, and sauté them together until tender.
Remove from the heat and combine with the cooked sausage and prepared cornbread stuffing mix.
I used Stove Top’s chicken stuffing, but only because I couldn’t find any cornbread stuffing mix. Set the stuffing aside.
Prepare the Chicken:
Make sure you have a very clean area in which to work. I think I went through a quarter of a bottle of hand soap and half a roll of paper towels. Excessive, probably; however, it isn’t like I debone chickens every day. Which, by the way, none of our local grocery store butchers will do. Can you believe it?
Remove the bag of innards from the chicken. You can keep these if you want. Me, I don’t relish the idea of keeping chicken guts, so I stashed ‘em in a zip-top bag and tossed ‘em in the freezer to wait for trash day.
and pat dry the chicken.
Then follow Mr. Pepin’s instructions on how to do this thing.
I’m so not going to show you the whole process. For one, it’s about a million and one gloopy, chicken-covered steps. Sorry, but it is. I’ll show you some of the highlights, though.
A couple of nifty things I learned how to do:
You can make chicken lollipops out of the chicken wings. If you’re a major carnivore, and don’t mind turning wings inside-out, these might be pretty cool floured/breaded/oiled, then fried/baked/grilled, and served as appetizers for a party.
And you know that annoying white strip of something (turns out it’s a tendon) in chicken tenderloins—the one that is impossible to cut out, so you just cook it and try to eat around it? So very easy to remove.
You grab the end of the tendon with a paper towel
and then hold your knife perpendicular to the cutting board, and simply scrape the tenderloin away from the tendon.
Easy as peeling a banana.
I also learned that I lack the strength to perform Pepin’s trick of breaking the bone of the drumstick with his knife. I had to use my mallet.
Pepin claims the deboning can be done in under a minute. It took me about an hour to debone the chicken. And that plastic wrap on the computer was totally needed. I think I watched several steps three, four, five times a piece.
Eventually, though, I ended up here:
Not quite as perfect as his, but pretty darn good!
I salted and peppered the meat.
And then added the stuffing to the legs and a layer over the rest of the bird.
Then I rolled it up, flipped it over (which was actually more difficult than making the chicken lollipops) and tied it with kitchen string.
At this point, I put the chicken in a baking dish, salted, peppered, and brushed the skin with oil.
Then I put it in the refrigerator until a half an hour before I was ready to cook it.
When I finished, I cleaned, recleaned, disinfected, and then cleaned everything again.
To roast it, I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees F.
Lacking a roasting pan, I placed the chicken on a cooling rack that I set into a baking sheet, and I roasted the chicken for a little more than an hour until the temperature read about 160 F (it keep cooking for a bit after it leaves the oven– you want its final temperature to be 165 F).
Then I removed the chicken and covered it with foil.
Let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes so that the stuffing can set up and the juices can redistribute themselves in the meat.
I don’t have any other beauty shots. My family demolished it. My kids who don’t eat unusual dishes loved it, and my dad who hasn’t eaten stuffing in over twenty years proclaimed it delicious. My folks even took home the leftovers.
The skin was crispy and flavorful. The meat was moist and tender. The stuffing wasn’t too mushy.
All in all, not too pretty, but definitely tasty and worthy of a special occasion. Best of all, I can say, “I did it!”
Yield: 8-12 servings, plus leftovers