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
- ½ 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
- 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.
- If roasting right away, preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C or, better, 450°F/232°C.
- Remove the skin from the thighs and reserve.
- Remove the meat from the bones and save the bones for stock.
- 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.
- 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:
- My post on a roasted and braised turkey method.
- Here is a recipe for a duck breast ballotine wrapped in pancetta.
- Chicken tikka masala recipe from John, the Stay at Stove at Dad.
- Learn your breeds of chicken from Ithaca College.
© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.