Chicken, Equipment, Italian, Marinade, Roast Chicken, Spatchcock

Chicken, Equipment

How to Make Italian Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone)

Super crispy skin in a fraction of the time.

2/17/2020 12:00:00 AM

Super crispy skin in a fraction of the time.

Chicken under a brick (pollo al mattone) is a method for making roast or grilled chicken that delivers some of the crispiest skin ever, with an even shorter cooking time than a more traditional roast bird. Here's how to do it, no matter what equipment you have at home.

Get the RecipePollo al Mattone)Humans have been cooking with hot stones more or less since we first learned to control fire. Before metallurgy allowed for cookware made of copper, iron, and steel, and even before anyone had figured out how to turn clay into earthenware, we were heating stones to cook on—and sometimes under—them. They were nature's griddles, broilers, water boilers, skillets, and sheet trays. In that light, the technique behind Italian chicken under a brick (

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pollo al mattone) is a pretty ancient one: Heat a heavy weight (whether it's made of stone, ceramic, clay, or metal), then slap it down on a chicken to sear it rapidly from above while it also cooks from below.The method works whether you're cooking on a grill or roasting in an oven. What it delivers is a faster cooking time and skin so crispy you'd think it was glazed and fired in a pottery kiln. It requires the bird to be spatchcocked, which is done by cutting out its backbone and pressing it flat; this flatness is key, since we want the flat"brick" to make as much contact with the chicken as possible.

Spatchcockingis a technique we recommend for just about any roast chicken anyway, even if you're not planning on using the brick. In Italy, the bird is usually marinated first with herbs, olive oil, and lemon juice, for even more flavor.Working on this recipe came down to figuring out the two big parts of the process: the best way to marinate the chicken, and what gear you really need to pull the technique off.

The MarinadeThe most common marinade for pollo al mattone includes olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic, red pepper flakes, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or both). I've seen renditions that stray from this basic ingredient set, but I decided to stick with it for this classic version. One thing I wanted to figure out was whether it was better to mince up all the aromatics or leave them in larger chunks. Mincing the aromatics would, in theory, offer more flavor by increasing their surface area, but it would also be more difficult to remove all those little minced bits later—which, given the high heat of this cooking method, could lead to burnt little specks that might be unpleasant. The alternative was to leave the aromatics mostly whole, just crushing or bruising them slightly to help release some of their flavor.

Side-by-side tests had me leaning in favor of mincing. In the batches in which I crushed the garlic and bruised the herbs, but otherwise left them whole, their flavor never really reached a sufficient level in the chicken. In the ones for which I minced the aromatics, it did, and my worry about them burning turned out to be pretty much unfounded: I just scraped the marinade off before cooking as best I could, and the few remnants that did scorch did no real harm to the flavor of the chicken.

The second marinade question to resolve was how to go about marinating the chicken, and for how long. I tried three ways: rubbing the chicken with salt, pepper, and the marinade and letting it stand overnight; rubbing the chicken with salt, pepper, and the marinade and letting it stand for 30 minutes; and dry-brining the chicken overnight with salt (to give the skin a chance to dehydrate, in case that led to superior crisping later) before adding the marinade and letting it stand 30 minutes.

That last option, dry-brining overnight and then marinating briefly after, was the most cumbersome and didn't produce better results, so that got crossed off the list. The remaining two options (marinating overnight versus marinating 30 minutes) produced remarkably similar results, with the overnight marinade yielding just slightly more flavorful chicken than the 30-minute one. This is in line with what we already know about marinades—they're primarily surface treatments that don't penetrate deeply into the meat. If you have the time for an overnight marinade, or just want to get your prep out of the way in advance, there's no harm in doing it, but you don't need to. Marinating for an hour or two will be more than enough, and even 30 minutes gets the job done.

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