Homestyle Chicken Ballotine/Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

So, out of nowhere, Donna says, “Hey.” She was just heading down to the basement for something. She stopped. She said, “What if you took the skin off those thighs, boned them out, chopped up the meat, and added aromats and stuff and rewrapped them in the skin and roasted it all till the skin was really crispy? Wouldn’t that be good?”

Then she left. Just. Left. Left me there with this idea hanging like a slow curve over home plate that is sweet to knock out of the park. Damn her!

When I buy chicken parts (no, can’t always buy the best pasture-raised birds, alas), I buy thighs, because they’re the tastiest part of the chicken and have a good meat to fat ratio, perfection for what Donna just described. Using the skin as the container is an old idea. Chicken pâté wrapped in its own skin, poached in stock, cooled in the stock, and sliced is called a galantine. Roasted and served hot, it’s traditionally called a ballotine. What Donna had suggested was a kind of homestyle ballotine. And I could not stop thinking about it for two weeks—when the idea got the best of me and made me do it.

And damn was it good. Crispy skin, juicy succulent flavorful chicken. It’s basically chicken sausage wrapped in chicken skin. How can you go wrong? Feel free to improvise on the aromats and seasonings. Add diced sundried tomoto, basil, roasted red pepper, tarragon, or take it spicy with chipotles and cilantro and lime!

The skin peels right off the thigh. It takes a few minutes to get the bone out, but the meat is going to be chopped so you don’t need to be fussy about it. I basically treated the meat like I’d treat meatloaf or meatballs. I sautéed half an onion, a carrot, and garlic with plenty of salt and pepper, let it cool, pureed it with the meat in a food processor, just a little, so it was mixed but still chunky, wrapped it all back up in the thigh skin, and cooked it. A modern-day ballotine. Make them over the weekend and roast them midweek till the skin is crispy (if you’ve salted the chicken well, they’ll keep in the fridge for four days or so). A cool dish. Thanks, DT!  (I actually deep-fried ours because I’m incorrigible, but you can roast at high heat till the skin is crisp and the inside reaches 160˚F/71°C.) The above was garnished with some freshly chopped rosemary.

(Did I just say deep fry? Another idea to really take these over the top just occurred to me while writing this. Oh my god. I wish I hadn’t thought of this. Treat them like buttermilk fried chicken!)

Donna’s Homestyle Chicken Ballotine

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 Spanish onion, small dice
  • 1 carrot, small diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and diced, or crushed
  • salt to taste
  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the onion, carrot, and garlic. Add a four-finger pinch of salt. Sauté till tender, or even browned—up to you. Remove to a plate and let cool.
  2. If roasting right away, preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C or, better, 450°F/232°C.
  3. Remove the skin from the thighs and reserve.
  4. Remove the meat from the bones and save the bones for stock.
  5. Add the meat, vegetables, another aggressive blast of salt, and freshly ground pepper to a food processor and pulse till the meat is roughly chopped and the vegetables and seasonings are well distributed.
  6. Divide the meat mixture into four portions. Roll them up in the thigh skin, season the skin with salt and pepper, and roast or deep-fry until the skin is crisp and the interior is 160°F/71°C. (Or roll in seasoned flour, then buttermilk, then the flour again and deep-fry!)
    Four portions.

If you liked this post on chicken ballotine, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



30 Wonderful responses to “Chicken Ballotine”

  • Elisabeth

    That. Is. Genius. What a team the two of you make! I’m going to try it this weekend with minced garlic scapes and whatever else pops up at the market.

    (Minor note: I think you mean the skin peels off the thigh, not “peals”. Unless you are breaking out in spontaneous applause at its meaty deliciousness.)

  • Jessica

    HOLY FUCK!!!!

    Holy fucking poultry porn!!!

    I can’t even leave a proper comment cause of the fuckery of all this. I can’t wrap my head around this much amazingness and deliciousness. Again, holy fuck!

  • eatwisconsin

    Some guys at our local farmers’ market have done a Hmong twist on this. They take a chicken wing and debone the flat part of the wing, leaving the wing tip attached. Then they stuff it with Hmong egg roll fillings (cellophane noodles, caggabe, carrots, chicken) and deep fry it. They are basically replacing an egg roll wrapper with chicken skin and the results are glorious. It is incredible. The wing tip makes a nice handle. Here is a pic:

  • Nick

    That’s a wife maneuver if I ever heard one!

    This will be done this weekend. Have a nice de-boned whole chicken in my freezer I was going to cast iron … but this.

  • Richard Scholtz

    This sounds awesome. I’m going to take the chicken sausage with sun-dried tomato and basil recipe from Charcuterie and adapt it to this. It’s chicken sausage without having to mess with stuffing it.

    • Mike Romeo

      I used the chicken sausage recipe a few months back for a similar purpose, intending on stuffing the flat wings as described by another comment for an appetizer at a dinner party, but the wings I bought were too small. I ended up tearing them beyond use after a few tries. I ended up cooking it in a prosciutto lined terrine mold and it was just as delicious. I also substituted the sun dried tomato for a 50/50 split of fresh peeled and fresh peeled roasted (couldn’t find the sun-dried in my little Italian market). It also makes a great galantine.

  • A.S.

    Do you need to tie it up or something to keep the skin enclosed around the meat?

  • Jeff

    Blast you Ruhlman!That buttermilk fried chicken idea is pure genius.

  • Carly

    Really well done, transferring your own singleminded focus on the dish to probably anyone who reads this! Just emailed the guy I buy my meat from to make sure he brings chicken thighs to the market on Saturday. (He’s a great farmer, but unreliable on the retail side!)

  • Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I am loving that I can get thighs without the bone at my local market (ie Costco) so love finding new recipes to use them. I admit, I’m thinking about smoking them though; the stove takes a vacation during summer while everything possible is either grilled or smoked outside. Looks fabulous as in I would eat one now for breakfast fabulous!

  • Scott

    Jesus – thought ballotine was enough…I made it through the post. But buttermilk fried chicken treatment – is plain ludicrous. now i won’t stop thinking about that until they are made. Unfortuantely wife won’t eat the skin…but then again why’s that a bad thing – I’ll be right there two between her plate and the dog. And I outweigh the dog 😉

  • Diane

    Why do i have a feeling this is going to be a staple around our house? Thank you!

  • MonkeyBoy

    You could make them lighter and plumper by adding some rice (to make up for the missing bone).

    Stuffed squid often has a stuffing of chopped tentacles, vegetables, and rice.

  • Swain

    I had something like this at NOLA made out of chicken wings. Same idea of deboning the wing, chopping all the meat. At NOLA they did something extra special and mixed in minced shrimp and pork. Wrapped it all back up in the skin and deep fried it. The result was a very tasty chicken wing lolly pop!

    Oh, one cool way to hold all of this type of stuff together if you’re not squeamish about using such stuff is to use a little transglutaminase (aka Meat Glue) and then vacuum pack them until they sets. Makes a perfectly sealed package. They now sell Meat Glue in small 50g packages instead of 1 kilo packs. A much more manageable amount.

    Cool idea Michael. I’ll be giving this one a try!


  • Annette

    Ok I have worked my way through some of your books and I read your site all the time but never comment. I can hold in siilence no more. Buttermilk fried…Sunday dinner, check and double check!

  • Cedarglen

    Heck yes! Thighs and legs are always the tastiest part of a bird. I’ve been making chicken and turket variations on this theme for years. Why? It is easy to make and it tastes good. Sadly, it usually looks like airplane food. A tip to the airlines that still feed the Back of the Bus passengers on 8+ hour flights: Herb this up a bit more to accommodate the reduced taste at altitude and you’ll have a winner. Make it look a little nicer and please, oh p l e a s e do not cremate that stem of veggie – whatever it.

  • DJK

    Could you go into a little more detail as to how to best stuff the thigh skin (any twine or other binding?) so that, upon lowering it into the oil, I don’t end up with a mess of loose chopped chicken floating around my pot?

  • Zalbar

    This is missing bacon and bbq sauce with the meat. Probably some pork as well.

    mmmmmm bacon.

  • Rod Johnson

    Looks delicious. However, the word “aromat” is awful (almost as bad as “veg”). Food is supposed to be life affirming. Please don’t ruin it with industry vocabulary.

  • Tim

    First – that’s the second best place to get pasture poultry…

    Second – Wow. Deep fried. Mmmm. May have to sacrifice a bird for this…

    Julia Child had a recipe for “Chicken Melon” – whole boned chicken cooked in the entire, unbroken skin but she did the chicken more mousse-like, cream, pistachios, ham. Made that for one child’s baptism, people still talk about it…

  • Victoria

    This does sound delicious. And that Buttermilk Fried Chicken! It’s the reason I have two All-Clad 8-quart stockpots. They aren’t the traditional tall kind, and they are perfect for frying that chicken.

  • MrBelm

    How did you get that much filling into the amount of skin removed from a chicken thigh?

    • cleek

      the picture makes it look a lot bigger than it really is.

      i made these Thursday night (baked) and each of them comes out to be maybe 3.5″ x 1.5″.

      there was a little filling leftover, after stuffing the four thighs. i just rolled it into three little meatballs and baked them along with the wraps.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    In Montreal, in particular, in the Jewish Community in particular, this dish is served at EVERY single Bar Mitzvah in town, it is on every Kosher caterer’s list for every single Jewish Holiday and Wedding, from the time I can remember up to and including today…hence it is a dish that no one would think of making at home and yet this looks marvellous and juicy. I assure you this is not how ‘they’ make it.

  • Judie B.

    Made these for dinner tonight. I had about 1/4 c. of chopped pancetta left over, so I sauteed the onion and carrot in that over medium low heat until the onion was translucent. I then added the garlic and about a teaspoon of fresh thyme, and set aside. My little organic thighs from a local organic farm had skin that would only cover half of the formed ball of meat/veggie. So, I sprayed a baking dish and laid the balls down and then spread the skins out as best I could over the top. Roasted at your recommended 450 degrees for about 15 minutes. They came out superb!! The brown crispy skin along with the moist meat/veggie mix was superb. Thanks for this great recipe!


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