Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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chicken under a heavy thing

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The peas are sprouting and I’m shivering in heels and cotton skirts, so it must be time to bust out the grill.

Butterflied chicken under a brick is my go-to lazy weekend grill dinner. If it’s just the two of us, it’s great on top of a tangle of sturdy greens. Or it slots nicely into a bigger spread for more people. The leftovers are fantastic for tacos or salad. It requires almost no attention or fussy cooking. Win!

We had it the other night with a little warm mushroom salad and polenta with tomatoes. Om.

Recipes after the jump.

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Chicken under a heavy thing

Classic pollo al mattone is a fantastic thing; it just gets better when you do a long salting beforehand, as you would for a roast chicken—you end up with juicy white meat that stands up to prolonged dry heat, slippery-succulent dark meat, and crackling-crisp skin, all suffused with that instantly recognizable lemon/herb/garlic Tuscan thing. 

Spatchcock (remove the backbone and keel bone of) a small chicken—between three and three and a half pounds. I find that this size cooks the most evenly on a grill (or in an oven), with dark meat that is cooked before the breast completely dries out. They have a higher skin-to-fat ratio, too, and are able to keep themselves better basted.

Lay it on a tray and stuff some minced rosemary, lemon zest, and garlic under its skin. Add some chili flakes if you like. Salt liberally on the skin side and the bone side; set uncovered in the fridge for at least a day.

Pull it out half an hour before you want to cook it (or when you light the coals); douse it with lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper.

Prepare a grill with medium-hot coals just six inches from the grate on one side and no coals on the other. Oil the grates well; make sure they are very hot. Put the chicken skin-side down over the hot coals and weight it with something heavy and fireproof—we use a cast-iron skillet, but bricks wrapped in foil work just fine. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to put out flames as the oil drips onto the coals. Cover and cook for ten minutes.

Turn carefully—use a metal spatula to loosen the skin as you go if it’s sticking, but if the grates were hot enough it shouldn’t be a big problem. Weight it again and let it cook on the bone side for another ten minutes.

Pull the chicken over to the indirect heat side, with the dark meat toward the coals. Let it cook, skin side down, for another twenty to thirty minutes, or until it is done. Let it rest for at least five minutes before jointing it.

Warm mushroom salad

This hardly counts as a salad, though it would be great with some arugula or spinach tossed through it. Or you could eat it at room temperature as part of an antipasto spread. Or keep it in the fridge to dress up sandwiches. Point is, it’s unfussy and good and can be made way, way ahead.

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Clean and chop as many meaty mushrooms as you like—we used a combination of shiitakes and dried/soaked porcinis. Warm some butter and olive oil in a skillet. Saute the mushrooms over medium-high heat until they are seared golden on their cut surfaces; turn down the heat. Add a minced clove of garlic and some thyme. Salt the mushrooms and let them cook, slowly, in their own shed juices for another ten minutes or so, until they are very tender. Add another tablespoon of oil and one of water after they are done—the contents of the skillet should be juicy. Add a squeeze of lemon. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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