Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pollo al Mattone (Chicken Grilled under a Brick)

About five years ago, I had the privilege of eating a dinner prepared by Tuscan chef Giancarlo Giannelli.   Chef Giannelli owns and operates Locanda dell'Oste Poeta, a restaurant outside of Siena.  The dinner was delicious and, afterward, I had an opportunity to meet the chef in person.  I also bought a book he recently published, which he was gracious enough to autograph for me. 

In that book, there was a recipe for Pollo al Mattone or Chicken Grilled under a Brick.  I have always wanted to make that dish, and, Chef Giannelli's recipe was easy to prepare.  Take as many chickens as you want, and add as much rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper that may be required.  Indeed, many recipes for Pollo al Mattone share in this simplicity.  One chicken, a handful of herbs and spices, and, of course a brick.

Although the brick is traditionally used to make this dish, there are alternatives.  Lotti Paolo produces a terra cotta dish with a heavy lid that simulates the weight of the brick.  Two very good friends bought this dish as a wedding gift for Clare and myself.  The dish is available at Sur La Table and, most likely, other cooking stores.  The reason why I love this dish is because it allows me to make Pollo al Mattone in the oven, rather than standing over a fire in 100 degree heat or, worse, in the rain.  

Using a terra cotta dish has one limitation, the temperature of the oven.  High temperatures over long periods of time can cause the terra cotta to crack.  The maximum cooking temperature is 350 degrees. However, this may not get the skin crispy enough.  So, after the chicken is cooked, I left it under the broiler for no more than five minutes, which helps to crisp the skin.



POLLO AL MATTONE (CHICKEN GRILLED UNDER A BRICK)
Inspired by Giancarlo Giannelli, The Taste of Memories at 54-55
Serves 2-3

Ingredients:
1 three to four pound chicken, butterflied
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh sage, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh thyme, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, diced finely
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil, as necessary
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste

Directions:
1.   Prepare the rub.  Allow the butter to soften to the point it is almost melted.  Add the herbs and spices and mix well.  Add salt and ground pepper to taste.  Then baste the entire chicken with the butter mixture, including under skin.  

2.  Prepare the cooking dish (stove).  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare the terra cotta dish according to its instructions.  Usually this requires heating the dish in the oven for five minutes, adding some extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the dish, and heating for about two minutes more.  If you are using the oven, proceed to step 4, if you are using a grill, proceed to step 3.

3.  Prepare the grill (optional).  If you are using a grill, heat the grill to about 350 degrees.  If you are using a brick, wrap the brick in foil.  Never use an uncovered brick.  In fact, I would probably wrap the brick twice with foil.  Dampen a paper towel or use a brush to brush the grates with olive oil.  Then proceed in step four as if it was being cooked in the oven.

4.  Cook the chicken (stove).  Place the chicken skin side down and place the brick or cover on top.  Cook for about ten to twelve minutes, checking occasionally to make sure that the skin is not browning or crisping two quickly.  After ten to twelve minutes, remove the brick or cover and flip the chicken.  Return the brick or cover, and continue to cook for about twenty minutes.  The chicken will be done when the chicken is golden and, when pricked in the thigh, the juice is clear.  The internal temperature should be about 170 degrees.

5.  Grill the chicken (optional).  If you using a grill, flip the chicken once more so that the skin is facing down. Grill for one to two minutes to crisp the skin.  If you are using an oven, turn on the broiler and let the chicken cook for about two to five minutes. 

As an accompaniment to this dish, I made some oven roasted potatoes.  I first boiled quartered, red skinned potatoes in a mixture that was equal parts water and chicken stock.  I also threw in some rosemary twigs and fresh thyme sprigs.  After the potatoes could be pierced with a fork, I removed them from the water and dried them off.  Then I added the potatoes to the oven to cook alongside the chicken, removing them when they were done.

ENJOY!

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