Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Chicken Under A Brick

In Italy, Pollo Al Mattone, is a pan fried chicken dish pressed with  a heavy weight to get as much contact between skin and heat as possible. I've seen version on the grill. I've seen versions that are all stove top. I've seen versions that sear on the stove and finish in the oven,  although that hardly seems traditional. I assume these older dishes were made in houses without ovens and in fact the whole process today seems to mimic the crispy skin more easily created by roasting at high heat (or in a neighborhood rosticceria).
A recipe originally from Tuscany, the dish is thought to have originated in the town (really part of Florence now) of Impruneta famous for terra cotta tiles and pots -- just the thing to weigh down your cooking bird. Made for the feast day of Saint Luke -- Impruneta's patron -- Pollo Al Mattone has fed generations of revelers and pilgrims alike in the hillside village.
To help flatten our bird I removed the backbone and -- although this isn't at all traditional most of the ribcage and breastbone too. My chicken laid nearly flat with the legs giving just a bit of protection to the more easily dried out breast meat. I marinated our bird overnight in garlic, lemon, olive oil, rosemary and fresh thyme. When it was time to cook I poured a shimmer of olive oil in a hot skillet and laid in the chicken (with some sprigs of rosemary on the breast) skin side down, weighted with a heavy iron frying pan. After 5 minutes or so I moved the whole contraption to a 500º oven/. After 15 minutes I removed the weight and flipped the bird over to further crisp for another 10 minutes.
Though certainly not flashy and hardly chic of us this simple homey dish is the perfect way to ring in the new year and fortify for the perils and excitement of 2013.

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