In the mood for a crispy, spicy, succulent chicken? Look no further. This recipe combines the aromatic spices of North Africa with a, er, brick. Chicken under a Brick is an easy way to get a crispy grilled chicken on the stovetop. Or, in my case, chicken under a Dutch oven, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Every week we roast a chicken in our house for dinner. It's easy, flavorful, and resourceful; one chicken feeds a family and then some. Stock is made from the carcass, and any left over meat can be used later for lunches, a light dinner, salad or soup. This week, I bought a chicken, but decided not to roast it the way I usually do. I was craving something a little different - something crispy and spicy to launch us into a new rainy week. I asked my butcher to butterfly the chicken, which entails removing the backbone, and flattening out the chicken so it can cook evenly. This is where the brick comes in. The brick will weigh down the chicken, keeping it flat while it cooks, ensuring that more surface area will be in direct contact with the cooking element (grill) or pan. Why a brick? Because it's heavy and can withstand the heat. In my case, I don't have a brick, but I do have a heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven, that I placed directly on the chicken, which did the trick.
As for the spicing, I realize I am having a bout of wanderlust, because lately I have been dreaming of the far-flung destination of Morocco and its cuisine. While I don't foresee a trip to North Africa in my immediate future, I can at least bring its flavors and spices to my kitchen table. Using lots of garlic, fresh coriander leaves, saffron, lemon zest and olive oil, I made a paste that I smeared all over the chicken and under the skin. Then I made a dry rub of paprika, dried cumin, cayenne, and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkled it all over the chicken. The spices and flavors cooked into the skin and meat lending a subtly exotic flavor and heat to the meat and a vibrant color to the crisp-cooked skin.
Serve this dish with couscous or rice. Accompany with a green salad, or a Middle Eastern Salad consisting of chopped tomatoes, onion, cucumber, mint, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. No, we are not in Morocco, but close your eyes and picture yourself far away while you smell the aroma and enjoy the flavors of this delightful chicken.
1 whole chicken (3-4 lb.), backbone removed, butterflied
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander/cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
Make the Paste:
Combine garlic, coriander, one teaspoon salt, lemon zest and saffron in a mortar with pestle. Smash to a paste. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and stir to combine. (To read more about using a mortar and pestle read here.) Alternatively, mince garlic and add to a small bowl with coriander, one teaspoon salt, lemon zest, saffron and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Mix together with a fork. Rub chicken all over with paste, including between skin and breast meat. Place on tray or platter, skin side up and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting.
Preheat oven to 450 F. (225 C.)
Mix one teaspoon salt, paprika, cumin, black pepper and cayenne together. Sprinkle over both sides of chicken. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken, skin-side down, in skillet. Place brick wrapped in foil (or cast iron pan or Dutch-oven over chicken.) Cook chicken over medium-high heat without moving brick until nicely browned, 10-15 minutes, occasionally rotating skillet to ensure even cooking. Remove from heat and remove brick. Carefully turn chicken over in the pan with a large heavy weight spatula or thong without piercing the skin. Transfer chicken to the oven without the brick, skin side up. Bake until done, about 20-30 minutes, depending on size of chicken. Let rest, covered with foil, 10 minutes before carving.