As much as I enjoy eating grilled food, the grilling theme presents a major challenge to the city dwelling cook. When you live on the sixth floor of an apartment building without any access to outdoor grilling space, there are three grilling alternatives available:
Option #1 is a highly effective, albeit smoky, alternative for the grill-less masses. I own one of these grill pans and have made some fantastic meals using it, but it produces an immense amount of smoke. I have been known to rig up fans to blow smoke out the kitchen window as a beautiful skirt steak sizzles away, though it still makes a mess. In addition to the smoke problem, the grill pan's extremely small amount of grilling real estate makes it very difficult to cook anything too large.
I seriously considered option #2, especially after reading about Matt and Ted Lee's article about grilling in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. However, I had some trouble getting my head around the idea of actually cooking on a public grill. Although the high heat would effectively sterilize the cooking grates, I found the idea of using a public grill a little too unsavory. Who knows what's been cooking on those grills? And what about pigeons relieving themselves overhead? I finally decided against it when, despite these hygienic issues, I feared that the weather could turn bad and we'd end up getting rained out.
We decided to go with option #3, heading out to the New Jersey suburbs to create our "griller's delight" at my mother-in-law's house.
I decided to make Pollo al Mattone (Chicken under a Brick) from Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook. I had always heard of this dish, wherein chicken is pressed flat onto the grill by the weight of a brick, and here was my chance to give it a try.
The recipe called for grilling four poussins, or whole baby chickens (one per person). The first step required butterflying each chicken by removing its backbone (with kitchen shears) and then flattening it out. The chicken is then seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and rubbed with extra virgin olive oil. Although I thought I had planned well for the meal, I ended up forgetting to pick up the necessary bricks which go on top of the chickens to press them down into the grill. We looked around and found a large stone in the yard, washed it off, and covered it in aluminum foil to use in place of the bricks.
I grilled the chicken in two batches. The first two flattened chickens went onto the grill skin side down and the stone on top. As they cooked, the skin stuck to the grill and never really crisped up. When I started the on the second round, I noticed that there was a much hotter area on the left left side of the grill, so I moved the new batch there. As the skin that was in contact with the grill charred and crisped, the juice in the meat seamed to bubble up and steam against the surface of the stone. This is how it should be, I thought. To anyone who tries this, I would recommend that very high heat is essential.
I served the chicken with panzanella (also from The Babbo Cookbook), the Tuscan bread salad which combines cubes of day-old or lightly toasted bread with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, fresh basil and oregano, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine vinegar. The salad rested for about 30 minutes before serving. When it came time to eat, the tomatoes and other vegetables had released their juices, which the bread sucked up, along with the olive oil and tangy vinegar. The fresh, filling salad was a fantastic accompaniment to the grilled chicken.
Thanks to Too Many Chefs for another IMBB!
BEFORE AND AFTER Chicken under a
brick stone and savory panzanella (above). A properly grilled poussin (top).