How to make perfectly butterflied and crispy skillet chicken
While I try to concentrate on cookbook post-editing…
Let’s talk simple geometry here.
A bird is a three-dimensional object. The surface of a skillet is a two-dimensional plane.
How do we warp a three-dimensional object for it to make perfectly parallel contact with a two-dimensional plane, in the explicit interest of a chicken, creating that impeccably even, blistered and crispy skin? Aside from the fact that it’s super fun, of course (it is).
Plus a five-minutes pan sauce too delicious for its simplicity.
Ate this two days in a row and counting.
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- One small (2.5 lbs) chicken
- Fine sea salt to season
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 tsp fish sauce, plus more to adjust
- 1 tsp pickling juice (capers, chilis, olives or etc)
- 1/4 tsp extra-dark soy sauce, plus more to adjust (for color)
- 2 tbsp creme fraiche
- Couple turns of freshly ground black pepper
- Butterfly the chicken according to video instruction. Remember, SHARP PAIRING KNIFE IS KEY!
- Lightly season the meat-side of the chicken with sea salt, then lay them flat in a sheet-tray with skin-side up. Lightly season the skin-side with more sea salt, then place the sheet-tray in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. This process air-dries the skins which is crucial for the crispiness.
- Place a large (at least 12" or 30 cm wide) non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp of olive oil to generously coat the skillet. Arrange the chickens skin-side down in the skillet, making sure the skins lay completely flat against the skillet without overlapping. Then don't touch them for 5 minutes. If you want to place a brick or somethin' on top of the chicken during this time, feel free. I didn't find it necessary.
- After which, a good amount of chicken fat would've been rendered out from the skin. Scatter the smashed garlics and fresh thyme on top/meat-side of the chicken (we don't want them directly in the oil because they will burn quickly) and add the unsalted butter in the skillet. Slightly tilt the skillet to collect all the hot grease towards one side of the skillet, then use a large spoon to ladle the grease and baste it over the garlics, thyme and the meat. Wear a mitt if you want to avoid splatters. Continue this motion for the next 7 minutes (perfect for a 2.5 lbs chicken) to 10 minutes (if your chicken is bigger), depending on the thickness of your chicken.
- Why do this? This technique extracts the fragrance from the garlics and thyme without burning them, and it allows the chicken to collect all the browned butter bits inside the nooks and crannies of the meats instead of leaving them to burn. It also gently cooks the meat-side of the chicken to perfect and juicy suppleness while the skin-side crisp up.
- 7 minutes into basting, the skins should be golden browned and crispy and the meats should be perfectly cooked. Please restrain your urge to overcook the meat. Remove the chickens, garlics and thyme onto a plate to rest with the skin-side up, and leave about 2 tbsp of grease inside the skillet (keep the extra grease for final brushing). Whisk in all-purpose flour and ground white pepper and cook for about a minute. Then whisk in chicken stock, fish sauce, pickling juice and dark soy sauce. Let cook for 2 minutes until thickened, then add whatever juices that oozed out of the chickens during resting. Whisk in creme fraiche and black pepper and let simmer for 30 seconds more.
- Pour the sauce onto the serving plate and place the chicken on top (don't pour the sauce over the chicken or you'll compromise the crispy skins). Brush the skins with the reserved grease to give it a beautiful sheen, then serve immediately.
Kevin AtkinsonOctober 11, 2018 at 10:28 PM
A question – what about removing the leg bones? Thank you!
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 11, 2018 at 10:34 PM
Kevin, I purposely leave the leg bone attached (but completely expose it) to act as a structural element that, I think, creates a better-looking shaped chicken in the final result. But if you want to remove it, it will be totally fine, too.
KevinOctober 12, 2018 at 9:45 PM
KevinOctober 15, 2018 at 8:33 PM
I did this yesterday, and it was fantastic. The only modification I made – I removed the wishbone at the start (learned from the Thomas Keller “roast chicken” video) to facilitate the downstream butchering. This recipe is going into the rotation, although (in Canada) it’s hard to find small chickens.
dick steinOctober 11, 2018 at 10:51 PM
You can get the skin even crispier if you add smidge of baking powder to the salt rub. Can’t wait for your cookbook.
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 11, 2018 at 10:59 PM
Dick, lol I did try that! But the baking soda left a slightly off-putting, bitter note in the flavor profile that I’m not a big fan of. I found the air-drying process produced a better result :)
Laurie JunkerOctober 11, 2018 at 11:22 PM
Just to confirm—you do NOT flip the chicken during the cooking process. Thanks.
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 11, 2018 at 11:40 PM
PamelaOctober 12, 2018 at 9:28 AM
I love chicken AND, sadly according to my hips, I love butter.
I am so trying this!
This is the end-all and be-all grilled chicken.
PamelaOctober 12, 2018 at 10:44 AM
There only two of us going to be eating this and we both prefer dark meat. I can get a de-boned leg-thigh combo here in Japan that would be a great substitute for a whole chicken. If I used two of these instead of a whole chicken would there be a time difference for the cooking?
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 12, 2018 at 11:55 AM
Pamela, I would use slightly higher heat and baste for 5 minutes (instead of 7) to start with.
RZOOLANDEROctober 13, 2018 at 4:25 AM
This looks delicious. Making this tonight. Is your cookbook out yet?
Stu415October 13, 2018 at 6:37 AM
Jacques Pepin did it better – and with less cutting-here https://youtu.be/nfY0lrdXar8
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 13, 2018 at 2:12 PM
Stu415, omg that is such an awesome tutorial!!!! Thanks!!
AlexOctober 16, 2018 at 4:47 AM
Do you preheat the skillet or start from cold?
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 16, 2018 at 11:54 AM
Alex， preheated but it doesn’t have to be very hot.
Laurie JunkerOctober 16, 2018 at 7:59 PM
Solid technique. While it did splatter a lot during frying, the skin is super crispy and the chicken easy to serve with the bones out. Deboning was easier than I thought it would be. I used your tutorial because I thought Jacque’s way roughed up the meat too much. I’ll definitely make again.
Isadora GuidoniOctober 16, 2018 at 9:54 PM
This looks perfect, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside… YUM!
KevinOctober 17, 2018 at 7:26 PM
Hi Isadora – I can vouch for the finished product. The technique keeps the meat from juicy while the skin crisps, aided by the pre-salting and drying step. Things I learned for next time:
– Use a shallow-sided frying pan if you can – I used a saute pan, and the higher sides made basting more difficult;
– Try not to disturb the chicken while its frying – I checked the skin a couple of times and it was great, but it would have been better (browner) if I had left it alone;
– Mine didn’t require any additional seasoning – the pre-salting was enough;
– If you wanted to take the sauce in a different direction then sliced mushrooms and tarragon is an idea.
yen whiteOctober 18, 2018 at 6:56 AM
this is your best one yet; a manageable ingredient list, a super-helpful video and an interesting, absolutely delicious sauce all make for guaranteed success. dark and white meat were equally tender and flavourful, which is a bit of wizardry that you pulled off without bones. for those who eschew nonstick or just don’t have one big enough, i used an all-clad skillet without detriment to the quality and integrity of the crisped skin. this is how i am roasting chicken from here on out. mandy, you rock.
Abbe@This is How I CookOctober 23, 2018 at 3:07 AM
Can’t wait to try this. Am wondering about using a Cornish hen since small chickens are hard to find here. Every bird apparently needs a big breast!
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 25, 2018 at 3:31 PM
Abbe, the chicken I used was about 3 lbs, so if cornish hen is about that size then sure! You can use larger birds, too, but keep in mind that it will take longer to cook.
gfyOctober 26, 2018 at 9:22 PM
I just heard this post featured on NPR yesterday! Fun to hear the regular world discover one of my favorite bloggers!
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 26, 2018 at 11:28 PM
Gfy, wow thanks for the heads up! I didn’t even know!
Travel Umroh JakartaOctober 29, 2018 at 12:33 AM
can you use duck meat as well to use the recipe above, thank you
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 29, 2018 at 1:17 AM
Duck skin is much thicker than chicken so it probably won’t yield the same crispy result in this exact recipe. You May have to dry the skins in the fridge much longer and cook it longer as well.
ProkToolsNovember 3, 2018 at 3:03 PM
WOW! I have been wanting to try this recipe for awhile now and it was amazing! Very fast to make, and it was perfect for lunch. I think this is my favorite Skinny taste recipe so far. Thank you for all the great meal ideas! I love chicken. Avi From ProKtools.com – Best Cast Iron Cookware
DanielMay 22, 2019 at 1:15 PM
I thought rendering should be done on low, possibly medium heat, you have it medium to medium-high, can you elaborate? Thanks
GarrySeptember 29, 2020 at 6:16 PM
I have cooked this a few times now and I am getting faster at deboning yay. My wife and daughter loves it and bonus I get to eat my wifes chicken skin. I choose a medium heat and crank it up a but at the end I found this eliminates fat and just leaves the skin and chicken. Love your cookbook I purchased a truffle slicer as recommended and use this all the time now for garlic etc