The aspiring looters among you no doubt keep some extra bricks lying around the house, just in case. Well, blow the dust off those dusky red window smashers, for today we give them new life as poultry flatteners while we explore chicken under a brick.
WHY YOU NEED TO LEARN THIS
Precious few dishes contain prepositions. Sure, there's pheasant under glass, eggs over easy, oysters among us and sheep around the house, but none have quite the panache of chicken under a brick. Plus, you learn a prep technique with a dirty-sounding name that results in great tasting chicken.
THE STEPS YOU TAKE
Regular readers of my monthly screeds know that I like to start with a discussion of ingredients. Today, we'll skip that because there's really only one main ingredient: a dead chicken. And no, Sen. Smartypants, unless you're currently suffering from a touch of the geophagia, the brick doesn't count.
Chicken under a brick (or "chundrick," for short) is commonly associated with Tuscany in Northern Italy. It's simply a butterflied (or spatchcocked -- more on that delicious word later) chicken that's cooked skin-side down in a hot pan or over a grill.
The bricks flatten it somewhat, while at the same time increasing the area that comes in contact with the pan, giving the whole thing a crisp skin and a deep golden-brown color, which when combined with the admittedly unnatural vision of the bifurcated beast, gives the whole thing what the great Italian food writer Giuliano Bugialli called "an arresting appearance."
The first thing you want to do is spatchcock (oh, stop snickering; what are we, 12?) the bird. Prop it up on the cutting board on its tail, as if it were reading a book. Use your chef's knife to remove the backbone. This process can rightly be described as grizzly because it involves cutting through the ribs with an unfortunate and possibly disturbing crunching sound. Fear not, though, as the bird, having previously expired, will feel none of this. Any discomfort is yours alone to bear.
(Note: Personally, I like to leave those two little nuggets of meat called the oysters attached to the backbone because I love the backbone anyway and the oysters are my reward for taking the piece that nobody else in the house wants to eat.)
Once you've summoned some backbone of your own and relieved the bird of its, now you're going to remove the keel bone. Flip the bird onto its breast and push the newly backboneless sides out of the way. The keel bone's that dark, flattish one between the two breast halves. Run the tip of your knife gently, like a lover's finger, down the length of the keel bone to free it from the membrane holding it in.
Pick up the chicken with both hands underneath, and bend it backward, the way you used to crack the spine in your library books. This will cause the keel bone to pop out enough that you can grab it and wrest it free of its sheltering cocoon of breast meat. Next, howling bloodthirstily, raise the keel bone high in the air, like the heart of your vanquished foe.
OK, that last part's optional.
Now your chicken is spatchcocked.
If you know what I mean.
Before proceeding, you might want to refrigerate the bird, uncovered, for several hours or overnight to dry out the skin. This will facilitate the browning but is not necessary.
When you're ready to cook, rub the bird liberally with vegetable or olive oil, then season it generously with salt and apply whatever herbs and/or spices you'd like. I'm partial to za'atar, the mix of thyme, sesame seed, sumac and possibly oregano or marjoram. You can get it at any Middle Eastern market or a spice shop.
Set a cast iron or heavy-bottom, stainless steel pan over medium high heat until it's very hot. Coat the bottom of the pan with more oil, then lay the bird in skin-side down. Set two foil-wrapped bricks on top. (If you're not that aspiring looter, anything heavy will suffice, like another pan in which you place a couple of soup cans. Or weights from the barbell you never use. Or a canoe; they're very heavy. Just don't try to weight it down with your brother.)
Sear the chicken for 3 to 5 minutes, then place the pan in a 450-degree oven, and roast until the skin is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, remove the bricks and flip the bird over, taking care not to tear the skin. (Note: The pan and bricks will be very heavy. Take care in transferring them in and out of the oven. Also, be sure to let the bricks cool before you return them to your "For Looting" closet.) Return the pan to the oven, and roast until the bird is cooked through, another 20 to 30 minutes.
As a side note, if you want to skip the whole "under a brick" part, you can just roast the chicken skin-side up in that same 450-degree oven until a thermometer poked into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. The skin will still get golden brown; it just won't have that same appealing "just-run-over-by-a-truck" look that the bricks provide.
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