Pollo al mattone, or chicken under a brick, is a classic Tuscan recipe. This version is an adaptation of a recipe from Alisa Barry, owner of Bella Cucina Artful Food, an Atlanta-based specialty food company with an Italian bent. The chicken traditionally is cooked under a brick or two, but you can use any fireproof heavy weight, such as a cast-iron pan, a ceramic pot lid or even hand weights.
The chicken in this recipe is spatchcocked, or butterflied, which means the backbone is removed and the chicken is opened up so it lays flat. That can be done with a sharp knife, but poultry shears make the job easier.
You'll need a fireplace grill, also known as a Tuscan grill or beach-style grill. The grills are sold at Sur La Table locations and Hill's Kitchen on Capitol Hill and are widely available online.
Preserved lemons are available at some specialty food stores; or see our recipe for Quick Preserved Lemons at www.washingpost.com/recipes.
If you would like to make an aioli dipping sauce for the chicken, remove 2 tablespoons of the marinade before mixing it with the chicken and combine it with 3/4 cup mayonnaise. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make Ahead: The lemon-garlic paste can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. The chicken should marinate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.
Servings: 4 - 6
- 4 preserved lemon wedges
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed from the stem, stem discarded
- 4 medium garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 3- to 4-pound chicken, butterflied
- 1 tablespoon crushed red chili pepper
- Coarse salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
To prepare the marinade for the chicken, place the lemon wedges, garlic, rosemary and olive oil in a blender. (A food processor may be used, but the blender makes a more pastelike mixture.) Blend on low speed, just until coarsely chopped. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Butterfly the chicken by cutting along the backbone on both sides and removing the bone. Place the chicken breast side up on a stable surface; press down on both sides of the breast and pull out the legs to flatten the chicken. Place the chicken on a shallow platter, skin side down. Rub the cavity of the chicken with one-third of the marinade and season with half of the crushed chili pepper, salt and pepper. Turn the chicken over and rub the remaining two-thirds of the marinade over the chicken to coat the skin. Season with the remaining half of the crushed chili pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and as long as overnight.
Meanwhile, prepare a fire in the fireplace. It should be hot, but allow the flames to subside before you begin cooking. Have ready a Tuscan grill (see headnote).
Place the flattened chicken on the Tuscan grill, skin side up. Place the grill in the fire in an area where there is the least amount of heat, so the chicken won't burn before it is thoroughly cooked. Place 2 bricks covered in aluminum foil (or other heavy weight) on top of the chicken to keep it flat. Cook for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the bricks, turn the chicken over and put the bricks back on top of the chicken. Watch the fire carefully. As the embers burn down, move the grill around or adjust the grill's height to allow the chicken to cook evenly. You will also need to watch for flare-ups and move the grill if the heat is too high. Cook, turning the chicken over every 10 minutes or so and adjusting the grill as needed, until the the skin is lightly charred, the chicken is flattened and an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thigh area reads 170 degrees. Cooking times will vary, but it should take 30 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the fire, cut into 4 portions and serve.
From Alisa Barry, owner of Bella Cucina Artful Food (www.bellacucina.com).
Tested by Bonny Wolf.
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