Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brick Chicken with Herb Roasted Potatoes

Brick Chicken (or Chicken with a Brick on Top) is a dish I've only made twice, but with both experiences going well, I gotta say it's a damn good way to cook a chicken... and it's totally doable on a weeknight with a cooking/prep time of less than an hour. The recipe is pretty simple and open to variations, and it's not particularly finicky. In fact, the hardest part about this recipe is finding a damn 3 pound chicken... surprisingly uncommon in most supermarkets... you'll see stacks and stacks of 5 pound roasters, but nary a little broiler/fryer to be had. Thankfully, at least here in Boston, Trader Joe's sells Empire Chickens which are both broilers and kosher... so you don't even have to worry about brining(in fact some people who are smarter than me prefer salting meat to brining because the process doesn't change the meat's texture but still seasons and gives you moist meat). Even if you can't find a kosher chicken, there's no reason to brine the chicken for this recipe because it's butterflied, so thus should be fairly hard to overcook.

Besides the chicken, another thing you'll need is a 12" skillet that can go into an oven that's 425 degrees... something not all pans can do... but if you don't have a fancy All Clad or whatever, you can pick up a cast iron skillet for like 25 bucks... and I think they even come pre-seasoned these days.

The final somewhat odd component of this recipe is the "brick"... which doesn't have to be a brick at all, but just a weight you can put on the chicken as it cooks on the stove top to get as much surface area in contact with the pan as possible. The first time I cooked it I used a heavy cast iron pan filled with cans, and this time I used a big stockpot filled with water. If you're intent on being faithful to the dish's name, then you'll need two bricks wrapped in foil because otherwise ewwwww.

This recipe was pulled from the February 2005 Cook's Illustrated($$$). The other time I made it was simply the chicken by itself, but I saw this one with the potatoes and that seemed like a pretty smart two for one deal. Hard to turn down roasted red potatoes when they require such little additional work.

Here's the full list of ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken small, (about 3 lbs), trimmed of excess fat, giblets removed and discarded, chicken rinsed and patted dry
  • table salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon, plus 1 lemon cut into wedges
  • 1 1/2 pounds Red Bliss potatoes (small), scrubbed, dried, and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
So nothing particularly exotic, and because of the nature of the recipe, you don't really have to prep anything before you start since the chicken cooks for like 20-25 minutes before the next step... giving you plenty of time to chop your potatoes and thyme. The first thing you do is butterfly the chicken, which I've described before but, in brief, consists of cutting out the backbone of the chicken(like so) and then flattening it down with the heel of your hand on the breast bone. Any moderately sharp pair of kitchen shears should be sufficient for this task... then you just pound on it a bit to try and get a moderately even thickness. Season the bird to taste with salt and pepper.

Move an oven rack to the bottom position and preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Then heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in your skillet over high heat until smoking (it's really important to have a hot enough pan so the skin doesn't stick - I've had it stick, and it's quite the downer). Move the heat back to medium and lay the chicken in the pan skin side down and place your weight on top. The recipe says to check it every 5 minutes, but I'm not really sure why... seems a little compulsive and I would think it would inhibit browning to keep turning it over. I say leave it alone for 20 minutes, and if you turn it over and it's not as brown as you'd like turn the heat up to medium high for another 5 minutes or so. While that's happening mix the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, 1.5 teaspoons of the thyme, the pepper flakes, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Once the chicken is fully browned, transfer it to a plate (skin side up) while you get the pan ready for the oven.

Pour off the fat in the pan and then add your potatoes and sprinkle them with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme. Use the tongs to put your chicken skin side up on top of the potatoes and brush the skin with the lemon juice and thyme mixture you set aside earlier. It should look something like this as you transfer it to the oven.

Roast until the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer... about 10-15 minutes... be careful with the handle because it will be red hot (I burned myself like an idiot, so can attest to this). Move the chicken to a cutting board to rest while you return the potatoes to the oven to brown. The recipe doesn't say this, but I'd suggest trying to see if you can flip the potatoes over at this point... I didn't and I ended up with one really browned side and two barely browned sides... seems like you could mitigate this by flipping the potatoes, assuming they aren't stuck to the pan or anything. Anyway, another 10-15 minutes or so in the oven should give you some pretty perfect potatoes... then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl and toss with the parsley. Serve it all with the lemon wedges.

So there you have it. Pretty good recipe I thought... though like I said, I would have liked more even browning of the potatoes, but they were done perfectly to my liking... and the chicken itself was excellent.