How to Butterfly Meat

When it comes to cooking, many terms might be intuitive. When a recipe says to stir fry, you probably know that you are stirring veggies and meats in a frying pan. Hard-boiled eggs? Those get placed into boiling hot water. Steam vegetables? You’re just cooking them using the moisture evaporating from boiling hot water without actually placing them in the liquid.

Other phrases, however, aren’t quite as clear. Butterflying, for example, is one of those terms that can be confusing to someone who is new to cooking.

When you butterfly meat, you are taking a thick, juicy cut of meat and then cutting and rearranging it so you end up with a thinner cut. When you cut the meat and spread it open, it resembles the wingspan of a butterfly. You can butterfly various types of meat including beef filets, whole chickens, and fish filets.

The Benefits of Butterflying Meat

Butterflying meat has numerous benefits, including the following.

  • It allows the meat to cook more evenly. If you place whole shrimp, chicken breasts, or other cuts of meat on a grill or saucepan, some portions of the meat will make contact with the heat while others will hover above. When you butterfly meat, you end up with a smooth side that will sit on your cooking surface.
  • Butterflying can be used to transform cuts of meat into special dishes like stuffed chicken breasts and stuffed pork loin.
  • This method is also great for reducing cook times, which is perfect for chefs who are pressed for time.

Chicken Florentine cut in half

What You’ll Need to Butterfly Meat

For the perfect butterfly cut, you’ll only need two simple tools: a sturdy cutting board and a sharp chef’s knife. While you’ll only need these two tools, it’s essential you select the right ones for the job.

A good cutting board won’t dull your knife, yet is still resistant to bacterial contamination. Bamboo or plastic cutting boards meet both of these requirements and are typically very affordable.

You’ll want to make sure that your chef’s knife is as sharp as possible. A sharp knife will help you slice through the uncooked meat and also prevent slipping that can lead to cuts and other injuries. If your knife is dull, sharpen it before beginning to butterfly.

How to Butterfly Meat

Many different types of meat can be butterflied. However, whether or not you should butterfly depends on how you plan to cook it and what the recipe entails. Beef filets, chicken breasts, pork chops, and seafood all can be prepared using this easy technique.

How to Butterfly Beef Filets

First, lay the meat flat on the cutting board. Take your chef’s knife and make short, smooth strokes down the middle of the filet. Avoid sawing motions or cutting the meat so that one side is thicker than the other—you want both sides to be the same thickness so that they cook evenly.

Cut almost all the way through the meat, but stop before severing the two halves completely. You can now open the meat so you have two halves that resemble a butterfly spreading its wings. If you are going to be stuffing the meat, tenderize it with a mallet before rolling and filling it.

How to Butterfly Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts tend to have one extra step for butterflying. When you lay the breast on the cutting board with the smooth side down, you’ll want to first remove the inner filet that is also known as the chicken tender. Once you cut the tendon away, you can save it for a different meal.

Now, you’ll want to flip the breast over and cut the meat horizontally, just as you would with a beef filet, then follow the same procedure. Once you’ve made the butterfly cuts, you may want to pound your meat to tenderize it and form it into a uniform thickness. To do this, cover the butterflied meat with a layer of plastic wrap or wax paper. Next, gently pound the chicken with a meat tenderizing mallet until it is a quarter of an inch thick.

How to Butterfly Shrimp

Just like with steak and chicken, butterflying shrimp involves making specific cuts so the shrimp transforms from one thick piece into two smaller halves.

To butterfly shrimp, you can opt for either a back butterfly or inside butterfly. No matter what option you choose, you’ll want to use a sharp paring knife or small chef’s knife.

To back butterfly, slice shrimp down the back almost—but not completely—through the entire shrimp. You can now open up the “wings” of the shrimp. An inside butterfly involves slicing the inner curve, rather than back, of the shrimp.

Learn New Cooking Techniques

After you spend some time practicing your butterflying skills, it’s time to move onto other cooking techniques. Maybe you’d like to learn how to sous vide a steak. Or perhaps you want to discover how to blend spices to create a warming curry paste.

No matter which culinary skills you hope to learn, a formal education may help inspire and guide you. Escoffier offers a variety of online and in-person programs, including Culinary Arts, Baking & Pastry, Plant-Based Culinary Arts, Holistic Nutrition and Wellness, and Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management. All of these programs are taught by talented Chef Instructors who have years of industry experience as well as excellent teaching abilities.

If you’d like to learn more about Escoffier’s programs and if they could be right for you, contact the school today.

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