When I was doing some research for this post, I discovered that this method of cooking chicken is pictured in Etruscan frescoes. Given that the Etruscan era ended roughly around 500 B.C., this is unquestionably the oldest recipe I’ve ever shared with you. And it’s age explains why the translation of the word “mattone” is “paver” in English. The Etruscans used a stone to weigh down the bird to both flatten it and make its skin extra crispy. As you’ll see below, with no bricks around, I finally found a use for my free weights…
Ann Burrell was actually the inspiration for my cooking this dish. She’s also the inspiration for using the free weight. She suggested on her show “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef”. I find it fun to watch. She’s quite a character. But her take on “Pollo al Mattone” used Cornish Game hens and they’re not on the menu here. We just find they havve too many bones and not enough meat for our taste. Instead, I like to cook with small Kosher chickens running about 3 – 3 ½ lbs. I think you’ll agree it makes a very nice impression on the platter. We serve half a chicken a piece but you can easily cut the bird into quarters and serve four. It’s really easy too. You make two cuts on either side of the back-bone, flatten the bird, then pound it even flatter with the side of thick-bladed knife. You then marinate the bird for 12- 24 hours in the fridge or for 2 hours at room temperature. The latter makes it the perfect thing to do on a Sunday afternoon for serving that night. I served simply cooked Haricots Verts and Anne’s recipe for Herb Roasted Potatoes. Here’s the recipe for the Chicken, and a little further down, the recipe for the roasted potatoes.
Recipe for “Pollo al Mattone” or Chicken under a Brick (or a Free Weight)
4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon pimento (Smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 3-3 ½ lb Chicken, butterflied, backbone and wing tips removed, legs tied with kitchen string
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
Special equipment: weights such as foil covered bricks or cast iron saute pan.
In a small bowl combine the garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, pimenton, and cumin. Drizzle in olive oil until the mixture becomes a paste. Place the chicken into a large bowl and massage with the spice mixture. Let marinate for 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator or 2 hours at room temperature.
* If refrigerating the chicken, remove from the refrigerator 45 minutes to 1 hour before cooking to let the chicken come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat a large, ovenproof saute pan with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Lay the marinated chicken in the pan, skin side down. Oil the bottom of another large saute pan, lay it on top of the chickens and place bricks or weights in the second saute pan. Cook the chicken until the skin starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Do not lift the chicken to check which will tear the skin. Just have faith that it is browning.
Place the entire thing—pans and weights–in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes.
Remove the pans from the oven and remove the weights and the top pan. At this point the skin should be lovely and dark brown. Check the chicken for doneness, it should be cooked through but still succulent and juicy. Remove the chickens from the pan and reserve on a large platter.
Remove the excess fat from the saute pan and add the white wine. Cook over high heat until the wine has reduced by more than half. Add the chicken stock, season with salt and reduce by half.
Arrange chicken and its vegetable accompaniments on serving plates or a platter. Spoon the juices over. Serves 2 – 4.
Recipe for Ann Burrell’s Herb Roasted Potatoes
1 pound new potatoes, assorted varieties and colors are great
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (This is the same temperature as the chicken is roasted at, so you can just put them in the oven together for about the same amount of time.)
Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters, as long as they are all about the same size.
Place the potatoes in a large bowl and add the garlic, sage, and crushed red pepper. Generously sprinkle with kosher salt and olive oil. (The potatoes will absorb a lot of oil and salt; they will taste bland if you are not generous.)
Lay the potatoes in a single layer on a sheet tray and roast in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Check the potatoes halfway through the cooking process to rearrange so the potatoes will have even cooking time and get evenly browned. The potatoes should be nice and brown and really well flavored. Transfer to a platter with the chicken and green beans. Serve.