Friday, September 21, 2007

Chicken Under a Brick

One of my all-time favorite chicken dishes is Chicken Under a Brick, which is also known by its Italian name pollo al mattone. I'd never tried making it on the grill before, even though that is how the classic Tuscan version is traditionally cooked. My old faux-Webber kettle grill would never had stood the weight of the brick, particularly after one of the legs broke free from the rusted-out kettle bottom and turned the whole thing into a perilously-shaky contraption. Instead, I always made it inside using the stove and oven and a couple of cast iron skillets, until a combination of poor kitchen ventilation and an overly-sensitive smoke detector made it an off-limits recipe.

My new house has a similarly inadequate stove fan, but no matter. My fancy new barbecue grill with its cast-iron cooking grates is ideal for chicken-under-a-brick, as I confirmed last night. Here's my old favorite recipe, updated to use a grill rather than the stovetop:

1 whole chicken
2 tsp Kosher salt
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced rosemary
olive oil

First you have to prep the chicken by removing the backbone and splitting it so it will lay flat. To do this, use a sharp knife to cut along either side of the backbone from front to rear, removing it as a single 1- to 2-inch wide strip. Then, spread the chicken out flat in a large baking dish or similar pan.

In a small bowl, mix about 1 Tbsp olive oil with the salt, garlic, and rosemary, then rub the mixture all over the chicken--both the skin-side and the inside. Put the chicken in the fridge and let it marinate while you prep the grill.

Fire up the grill and prepare a large batch of charcoal. When it's ready, spread the coals, rub a little oil on the cooking grates, and place the chicken, skin side down, on the grill. Weight down the chicken with something good and heavy. I took a small concrete paving stone from the border around my flower garden and wrapped it twice in aluminum foil (much easier than trying to scrub the thing clean.) Place the weight directly on top of the chicken to flatten it out and keep it compressed while it cooks.

Cook the chicken at least 15 minutes skin-side down then, using a thick towel or oven mitts, remove the weight, flip the chicken over, and re-weight it. Let it go for another 15 minutes or so, then flip it again and finish it skin side down. This should take no more than 10 minutes, but, to be certain, pierce the thick part of the leg and make sure the juices run clear.

You can eat it straight off the grill or let it rest for up to 30 minutes.

I'm not sure of the mechanics of it, but cooking the chicken under the heavy weight seems to keep it moist and juicy inside while ensuring a fantastic crispy skin. We ate ours with a tasty pear-and-blue cheese salad and some roasted potatoes, and enjoyed spending a little time catching up with this old friend. From now forward, this will be an outdoor dish for me.


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