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In cooking, to “Butterfly” means to thin a thicker item by creating two thinner, equally thick, halves joined by a thin “hinge.” In France, the technique is called “à la Papillion” (which means butterfly) and has been recorded in use as early as Pierre La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier Francois in 1651.

Conceptually, think of half of a loaf of un-cut bread, standing 4 uniform slices tall. If you were to take a knife and slice the vertical loaf almost all the way through at the midpoint you would have butterflied it into two equal sections, each approximately 2 slices thick. Because you did slice completely through the loaf, the two halves would still be joined by thin, fragile portion of bread.

Butterflying is often used when a thicker product is expected to take too long to cook all the way through, where the chef is worried that the exterior may burn before the interior cooks to an appropriate level of doneness. It is also a good technique to consider when a cut of meat won’t lie flat in the pan to cook evenly. Butterflying the cut will produce flat, squared-off edges which will sit more evenly in a pan. The Butterfly preparation is generally used with boneless items and can be used when you want to place a stuffing into an item and reseal it with a skewer or Butchers’ Twine

To Butterfly a thick cut of meat, take a sharp knife and carefully divide the meat almost in two, halfway through its thickness. The meat can then be unfolded, like a butterfly’s wings, to expose more surface area to the heat.

Culinary Uses

Any thick, cohesive product can be Butterflied, though thicker Steaks, Chops, Chicken Breast and Seafood are the most common candidates. Smart Kitchen demonstrates Butterflying on seafood in Intermediate Proteins.