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Poor chicken. It gets treated as a means to an end. The protein that supports the so-called interesting flavors in a dish. It's the food that will offend no one (well, no one who eats meat). And the main course that's gluten-free and dairy free, but a prisoner of its practicality.
But if you give chicken a chance to shine on its own, you'll be surprised by how well it pays you for your efforts.
Italians like to cook chicken under a brick -- a real brick, though often wrapped less evocatively in foil -- to get extra crisp skin. When I worked at Albergo del Sole in Lombardy, and an order would come in for the brick chicken, my job was to run to the garden to clip some rosemary and get it in the pan with the chicken and some oil. The moments-from-harvest rosemary and the chicken pressed against the pan by the hefty brick made for a rewarding dinner.
For the cook, it's equally rewarding -- with the chicken turned skin-side-down in the pan for most of the cooking, you have to tinker with the heat so the skin browns and crisps just as the chicken finishes cooking through. Too much peeking and the brick won't get a chance to work its magic. You have to trust your instincts. Don't expect to get it right the first time around. Perfecting this is the fun part.
I've made a few changes to the recipe I learned in Italy. I season the chicken 30 to 60 minutes in advance, and pat it dry before frying. My Brooklyn apartment kitchen doesn't afford storage space for a brick so I just use a heavy pan to set on top of the chicken (which doubles well for making the sauce, since you can't make a wine-based sauce in a cast-iron pan). And in addition to the herbs, I've added sliced peppadew peppers -- although any lightly spicy pickled pepper will fly.
Are you going to give me a hard time for offering up a recipe that only serves two? No. No, you're not.
Can you double it? No. Sometimes recipes are made for two and only two. This is one of those recipes. Stay home with your spouse/partner/pal. Open a bottle of wine ... for two!
Can you make it in a non-stick pan? Yes, but I'd rather you give your cast iron skillet some love.
Chicken Under a Brick with Pickled Peppers
- 2 chicken thighs and drumsticks, still attached
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 sprigs marjoram, thyme or rosemary
- 2 sprigs sage
- 1 garlic clove, smashed, skin left on
- 1/4 cup rose or white wine
- 1/2 lemon
- 5 peppadew or other small pickled hot peppers, thinly sliced