Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brick Chicken

Every now and then, I come across a recipe that seems too good to be true. Occasionally, I'm even foolish enough to attempt such a recipe. This episode of "Cooking Gone Bad" focuses on what sounded like a simple, hassle-free way of cooking a whole chicken without using an oven; that is, butterflying it and roasting it in a cast-iron pan on the stove while underneath a large brick (the chicken, not the cook). Tasting Table is a website that sends me a daily recipe and a daily newsworthy item from the local food scene (and also happens to be run by one Heather Sperling, currently Grant Achatz's significant other). Anyway, my email inbox on July 5 featured a Tasting Table recipe provided by Virtue Feed & Grain, a DC-area restaurant, for chicken cooked under a brick. According to the interviewed chef, the idea of using a brick (or similar hefty object) is to flatten the bird on the cooking surface, thus evenly cooking it at the same rate all over, yielding a juicy chicken in less time than oven roasting (those of you who are fans of chicken probably are aware that the major problem with cooking the bird in the oven is that the breast meat cooks faster than other parts, eventually drying out before the rest of it is done). Gimmicky? Yes. Intriguing? Also yes. I filed it away for future execution.

Last week, I decided to defrost a whole 3.5-lb, locally farm-raised chicken that had been doing penance in my freezer since late Spring and opted for the brick method, which, due to its quickness and few steps required, appeared to be perfectly designed for the home cook with whiny children in the background. First, I located a brick, a leftover paver from our back patio that got a nice sudsy bath in the sink (who knows how long it had been sitting out there) before drying and getting wrapped in foil. Next, I butterflied the chicken by removing its backbone, rubbed a marinade all over it and under its skin, flopped it skin-side down into my cast iron pan, placed the brick on top, and waited for the magic to happen. After about 12 minutes, I flipped the guy over, saw that the skin had browned a bit (not as much as I'd wanted, but ok), and replaced the brick. The photo above was taken around 25 minutes into the cooking process - according to the recipe, by this time, the carcass should have been cooked through and ready for serving, but it's fairly obvious that, not only is it not finished, we haven't even moved into the earth tones on the legs, creating an image not unlike that which you might see if a shiny weather balloon crash-landed atop a small, hairless animal. 10 more minutes, minimal additional cooking, curse words, and into the oven went the whole mess (without the brick), where 25 minutes MORE was needed to cook the chicken all the way through. I had to pull out chicken nuggets for the progeny, who were slowly starving to death while watching this whole ordeal and finally got to eat the finished chicken myself well after they left the table, carefully poking and prodding around to look for undercooked pockets to avoid.

What in the Sam Hill happened? Had I not thawed the bird completely? It had been in the refrigerator for 48 hours and spent a little time on the counter at room temp, so I don't think that was the problem. User error? Quite possible, since I have no prior experience cooking with bricks. It's bad enough that I'm entirely inept at home improvements, but when I use construction materials as kitchen tools and this is the end result, I think I need to take it as a sign to keep those two worlds separate from now on.

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