Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tuscan Chicken under a Brick

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day and it reached 81 degrees in Baltimore, which is incredible for March!  Throughout the year, when the weather permits, I celebrate “Grill Fridays” at work with my staff.  I bought a Weber kettle grill for my department and we all chip in with a main or side dish. It’s a great way to take a few minutes to thank them for their hard work, relax and re-cap what we have accomplished during the week.  Yesterday, I decided to make them one of my favorite grilled dishes, namely “Tuscan Chicken Under a Brick.”  The dish starts with “spatchcocking” a whole chicken, in which the wing tips, backbone, rib bones and the cartilage between the breastbone is removed so the chicken lays absolutely flat on the grill.  It is seasoned with a fresh herb salt, drizzled with olive oil and cooked over charcoal with weights made from bricks covered with aluminum foil.  This causes the meat to sear, the skin to get really crispy, yet it retains all the juices.

The chicken is seasoned with a fresh herb salt, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and then grilled with foil-wrapped bricks on top.  This insures close contact with the grill which makes the skin crispy, yet the meat stays extra juicy.


1 whole chickens (each 3 ½ - 4 lbs.)
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (and some for serving)
Herb salt (recipe below)
1 lemon, cut into wedges for serving
2 bricks wrapped in aluminum foil

For the herb salt:
3 garlic cloves
1 T. stemmed fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp dried rubbed sage leaves
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (or 1 Tbs black peppercorns)
1/4 cup coarse sea salt

Directions for the herb salt:

Peel the garlic cloves by gently crushing them under a knife blade to loosen the skins.  

Remove the tough stalks from the rosemary.  

Place the garlic, rosemary leaves, dried sage, thyme and Szechuan peppercorns in a food processor and run the machine in short bursts till everything is finely chopped.

Add the coarse sea salt and pulse to mix.

Transfer the rub to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. This makes about 1/3 cup of herbed salt rub, more that you’ll need for this recipe and the leftover rub is excellent when grilling other meats.

Directions for the chicken:

Remove the fat and the giblet pack just inside the neck and body cavities of the chicken (reserve and freeze to make stock.) Rinse inside and out and pat dry.  

Spatchcock the chicken by turning the chicken breast-side down. Using poultry shears, sturdy kitchen scissors, or a sharp knife and starting at the neck end, make two lengthwise cuts along the backbone, one on each side, from the neck to the tail. (the chopsticks mark the cut lines)

Cut out the backbone

Save it for making stock, or discard.

Open the chicken up like a book. Run the tip of a paring knife along the breastbone and cartilage below the breastbone. (chopsticks mark the breastbone to be removed)

Run your thumbs along both sides of the breastbone and white cartilage, then pull them out.

Tuck the wingtips behind the wings or cut them off and add them to the backbone for stock..

Use a knife to remove the breastbones.

Generously season the bird on both sides with the herbed salt and drizzle well with good extra virgin olive oil.

To grill: The direct grilling method is traditional, but using the indirect method produces a crisp, moist bird without the risks of flare-ups or burning.

The direct method: Set up the grill for direct grilling (the chicken will be placed directly over the coals) and prepare/preheat the coals and allow them to ash over. Leave one section of the grill bare for a safety zone. Brush and oil the grill grate.

Arrange the chicken skin side up on the hot grate at a diagonal to the bars. Place the bricks on top of the bird.

Grill the chicken until it the bottom is crisp and golden brown, 12-20 minutes for a full-size chicken.

Remove the bricks and flip the chicken skin side down for another 12-20 minutes.   Use an instant-read thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it into the thickest part of the thigh without touching a bone. The internal temperature should be about 170ºF.

Serve generously drizzled with olive oil and garnished with herbs if desired.

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