Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone)
Having made Chicken Under a Brick several times, the point of the brick escapes me. I marinated the chicken, brought to room temperature before cooking, browned the chicken skin-side down on the stove top. Then I placed the foil-wrapped brick on the chicken and finished in the oven. The first time I used a smallishchicken (under 4 pounds), the second time I used a cornish hen. Both times I was underwhelmed by the texture of the chicken and the fact that it was undercooked.
After the second attempt, it occurred to me that the undercooking was the result of placing the cold brick on the chicken then placing the pan in the oven. Wouldn't the brick just act as an insulator and prevent the heat of the oven from reaching the chicken underneath? None of the recipes I consulted for the cooking method state anywhere that the brick should be preheated, but I'm wondering if that would improve my results? I'm cooking the bird in a 400 degree oven, for at least an hour (15 minutes past the recipe time) and still finding the meat at the bone unpleasantly gelatinous/rubbery. My oven is calibrated properly, so it is not a case of the temperature running too cool.
Does anyone cook Chicken under a Brick? Do you preheat the brick? What does the brick really do for the bird? I'm thinking it might just be a gimmick, convince me otherwise.
I don't use a brick anymore, as my husband crafted a stainless steel weight with a handle for me. It's not much smaller than the cast iron skillet I cook the chicken in, and heavy enough to keep the chicken flat in the pan.
I cook mine according to the NY times recipe from what I can remember (cook the chicken often, but haven't read the recipe in a very long time). I flatten the chicken out and season and then put it in the fridge all day or overnight with only a paper towel covering it so it can dry out, then I heat my skillet to very hot and put the chicken in breast down with the weight on it. I let it sizzle and spatter away for 10-15 minutes and then put it directly in a the oven for another 15-20 min, take out and turn over (breast up) with no weight for another 10 or so. It's always perfectly done and crispy. The variations in time reflect the size of the chicken, but I only use smaller ones (about 1200-1600 grams).
The weight is supposed to help the chicken cook evenly. I've never heated mine (nor when I used a brick), but I don't think they were ever really cold.
I use a large cast iron skillet that will hold the bird when its been spatchcocked, start skin side down, cover with foil, put a smaller cast iron skillet on top of the foil and weight down with a teakettle full of water. Pour off the rendered fat once or twice (obviously removing the contraption first), flip re-weight. All done on the stovetop, BTW.
Deglaze with chicken stock, add some white wine & herbs -- presto.
You can preheat the brick. I do (basically).
When preheated, the brick serves to speed cooking time by applying direct heat from both sides. It also presses the opposite side down for more contact with the pan, and ostensibly helps the bird cook more evenly. Check temperature with an instant read thermometer to know when it's done (it won't be an hour).
Personally, I don't actually use a brick - I use a heavy cast iron lid heated (sometimes repeatedly) under the broiler. You can get very good results - not necessarily better than a very good roasted chicken, but comparably delicious and quicker.
There is a good example of 'brick' chicken in Jonathan Waxmans version from a video on the chow side of this site. Take a look.