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So Much For Good Intentions
Every winter, we look forward to grilling out on our deck – we have a wood-fired grill from The Grillworks and the Green Egg smoker/grill. All too quickly, it gets really hot and muggy and the idea of starting a fire with wood or burning charcoal loses its charm. We think we like staring at embers or reading the dial while we have a daiquiri, but reality strikes when the humidity climbs over 60% – um, live flame, not so much.
So in honor of this being the fifth Wednesday of July (following our tradition of giving KD readers a bonus recipe whenever there is an extra Wednesday in a month) we want to introduce you to a cheerful grilling alternative — the Italian way of doing a spatchcocked chicken, which is called “al mattone“. In Italy, you can purchase these nifty little terra cotta gizmos, which weigh over 10 lbs so that you can spatchcock-cook without any makeshift paraphernalia. But here, it will take two bricks and two cast iron fry pans, and a way for the chicken to be hoisted on one end so that the juices run down through the breast. It’s easier than it sounds. You will have a whole chicken cooked in under an hour, in your air-conditioned kitchen, still with daiquiri in hand. And it is delicious. The easiest and most successful technique I got from Patricia Wells’ cookbook, Trattoria.
Less Is More
You can certainly marinate the chicken with all sorts of stuff before, and there are plenty of recipes that have you make it more complicated than it needs to be, but really this recipe lays it all out in its simplest form. I use a pair of poultry shears from Kuchenprofi, because it cuts the back of the chicken smoothly. It is not impossible to do it with a chef’s knife or Santoku, but it is harder. The optimum weight for the chicken is under four pounds, which sometimes can be difficult to find in the US, because, as we know, bigger and heavier is always better here. (It’s not, but I wander from the point). You should wash the bricks for obvious reasons and cover them with foil.
Once you have spreadeagled the chicken, don’t salt and pepper it yet. Flip it so that the breast side is facing toward you and take a meat pounder or the smaller fry pan and flatten it further, particularly on the breast part.(I like a pounder like the one pictured that you use to thin cutlets versus the ones to tenderize meat.). Then cut a slit in between breast and thigh on each side so that you can tuck in the wing tips. Make sure that the cast iron pan will fit the spatchcocked chicken.
Heat your larger cast iron pan and brush it with olive oil. You want a medium to medium high heat. I have botched this up on a couple of occasions with too high heat. So this is the fiddly part where practice makes perfect, but even less successful spatchcocked chickens cooked following this method are still delicious. So once this pan is hot, but not smoking – we are not doing Paul Prudhomme here -lay your chicken breast side down in the pan. Put the smaller cast iron pan on top and the two bricks inside. I always press down a couple of times. Set your timer for 12 minutes (if it is a heavier chicken, add a couple of minutes).
Tongs Not Fork
When you are ready to flip, use tongs, not a fork. I use a pair of 16-inch tongs, which are heavy duty and don’t slip, with insulated handles and a lock. They are sturdy and can flip multiple times their weight without giving up. Best not to use a fork, as it cannot handle the spread-out shape of the chicken. You generously season the first side with salt and pepper, and then flip and cover with the second fry pan and bricks, and set time again for twelve or more minutes depending on the size of your chicken. I check with my instant read thermometer (I have given up trying to test doneness with poking). While the second side is cooking, set up two plates as described below, so you are ready to let the juices in the chicken drain into the breast..
When the time is up, and the thermometer shows a reading of 165 or a bit less, then place it with tongs so that the chicken is at an anglel -legs up, breast down on the two plates. You will prop one plate against a canister or can and the other plate is on the counter, touching the vertical one – sort of like an open clam shell. This is the cool part that makes a difference (I have tried skipping this. Don’t.). The chicken will cook a bit longer as it stands on its head — for maybe 10-20 minutes, your call. Cover the chicken with foil or a towel while it is resting. The juices run down through the breast. I did not believe this step could make a difference, but I was wrong. Place it on a platter or board, carve into serving pieces and serve.You can sprinkle a bit more salt and pepper freshly ground.(I used flaked salt or fleur de sel ) Add some lemon slices to the platter if people like a bit of lemon juice squeezed on their beautifully cooked chicken. I do.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.