When I am hankering for something crispy and savory and have a chicken on hand, I make fried chicken Italian-style. The bird is spatchcocked — its backbone removed — so it can be cooked flat on the stove-top in a heavy pan. A brick set on top keeps it flat and cooking evenly. Only in my case, I use a rock instead of a brick, one of several I use frequently in my kitchen that I’ve found in some faraway place and hauled home.
The technique yields a bird with an utterly crispy skin and succulent flesh in less than half an hour.
It’s more a method than a recipe. After you’ve done it once, you can whip it up without thinking, and apply the method to other poultry.
Recipe: Chicken Under a Brick or Rock
The dish takes about 5 minutes of actual work, and about 25 minutes unattended cooking time, during which you can have a cocktail and put the rest of your simple meal together, as your home fills with a lovely fragrance.
Use this general method with other birds, from squabs, poussins and game hens to Guinea hens, adjusting the cooking time and weight accordingly. Use a rock just heavy enough to press the birds flat without squashing the daylights out of them.
If your collection of rocks is not yet up-to-speed, you can improvise any number of make-shift weights for cooking your birds this way, such as a smaller cast-iron skillet or saucepan with a heavy can in it, or a brick wrapped in foil.
Serves 3 or 4
One 3-pound chicken, preferably organic
1 tablespoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 unpeeled garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1/4 cup dry white wine or balsamic vinegar (for an optional pan sauce)
Pinch of sugar, optional
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken breast-side-down on a work surface. With kitchen shears, cut through the bones along both sides of the backbone and remove it. Trim off any excess neck skin. Spread the bird open, skin-side-up, on the counter and press down firmly against the breastbone with the palms of your hands to break and flatten it. Tuck the wings back and under themselves so they lie flat against the breast. Or, cut off the wing tips and discard.
If possible, season the bird at least an hour (unrefrigerated) or up to 24 hours (refrigerated) before cooking. (For an extra crisp skin, leave the salted bird skin-side-up and uncovered in the fridge to air dry.)
Sprinkle the bird on both sides with kosher salt and pepper. Press the herbs against both sides. Bring the bird to room temperature one hour before cooking.
Heat a large well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. Blot the chicken dry with paper towels and place skin-side-up in the pan. Place a heavy skillet or flat-bottom saucepan, about 2 inches smaller in diameter than the pan, directly on top of the chicken. Balance it on the bird and add heavy objects to weight the pan down, such as a rock, a can or two, or a meat pounder (it should weigh 4 or 5 pounds). Cook the chicken until the underside is brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove the weight and turn the chicken over with a pair of tongs. Replace the weight. Nestle the garlic cloves around the chicken and continue cooking until the skin is crisp and brown, 12 minutes longer. To test for doneness, insert an instant read thermometer into the inside of the thigh; it should read 170′. Alternatively, poke the thigh with a paring knife; if the juices are clear, not pink, it is done. Transfer the chicken skin side up to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes.
To make a simple pan sauce: Pour off all but about 1 teaspoon of the fat in the pan. Set the pan over medium-low heat and add the wine or balsamic vinegar, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve the caramelized juices. Cook until the wine is mellow and has no trace of alcohol taste, about 1 minute. Remove the herbs and adjust the seasoning, adding salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar, if necessary.
To carve, remove the wings and the legs. Separate the thighs from the breast. Use a chef’s knife to halve the birds down the center of the breast. Arrange all on a platter with the garlic cloves and serve.