We’ve had such wonderful weather here in the Hill Country lately! Unlike last year when we were suffering from one of our worst droughts, this year we are enjoying nice rains, cooler weather and beautiful flowers! The bluebonnets are spectacular this year!
I get a kick out of watching Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) on Food Network. She frequently cooks dishes that are out of my comfort zone, and they always seem to challenge me just a bit. I love that! Such was the case recently when she fixed a dish called Chicken Al Mattone (chicken under a brick). Why not? I mean, who’s NOT looking for a new way to fix chicken? I think I’ve had it just about every other way possible, so why not try this? Aside from making a trip to Lowe’s or Home Depot, though, I knew I wasn’t going to find a brick anywhere around my house. I did, however, find a rock about the same weight as a brick would be, so I wrapped it in foil, set it aside and turned my focus to my little hens. This recipe calls for using cornish game hens, which are great! I never even think about buying them, because, in my store, they are located over with the frozen turkeys. Except in November, who even shops the isle with turkeys? When you think about it, though, we really should be cooking more of them. They are inexpensive, perfect portion control, and if cooked correctly, will melt in your mouth! This recipe will have you licking your lips! For you single guys (you know who I’m talking about!) this would be a GREAT dish to impress the ladies!
The first thing you need to do is give the little birds a “spinectomy”…the reason being, you want them to be able to lay flat while both marinating and cooking. So, grab some kitchen shears, cut along the sides of the spine and either discard or put into a freezer bag to save for making stock. Hey, don’t laugh! You paid for it, why not use it? Also, VERY IMPORTANT!…ALWAYS wash anything and everything that raw poultry touches, including your HANDS!
Then, to keep them from looking like road kill, tie up the legs (you can use kitchen twine, or if you really want to get fancy and impress, use scallions to tie them up). I also snipped off the tip of the wings so they wouldn’t burn in the oven, I don’t know that it’s really necessary, but the recipe called for it, so I did it. I tripled the recipe and made it for 6 instead of 2.
Next, mix up the marinade and slather all over the birds, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies! Doesn’t this marinade look fabulous? Look at the ingredients….lemon juice, rosemary, garlic, red pepper, cumin and pimenton (smoked paprika). VERY flavorful!
Pollo al Mattone
Adapated from Anne Burrell
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 3 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon pimenton (smoked paprika)
- 1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Cornish game hens, butterflied, backbone and wing tips removed, legs tied with kitchen string
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
Special equipment: weights such as foil covered bricks or cast iron saute pan
In a small bowl combine the garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, pimenton, and cumin. Drizzle in olive oil until the mixture becomes a paste. Place the chicken into a large bowl and massage with the spice mixture. Let marinate for 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator or 2 hours at room temperature.
* If refrigerating the chicken, remove from the refrigerator 45 minutes to 1 hour before cooking to let the chicken come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat a large saute pan with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Lay the marinated chicken in the pan, skin side down. Oil the bottom of another large saute pan, lay it on top of the chickens and place bricks or weights in the second saute pan. Cook the chicken until the skin starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Place the whole shootin’ match in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes.
Remove the pans from the oven and remove the weights and the top pan. At this point the skin should be lovely and dark brown. Check the chicken for doneness, it should be cooked through but still succulent and juicy. Remove the chickens from the pan and reserve on a large platter.
Remove the excess fat from the saute pan and add the white wine. Cook over high heat until the wine has reduced by more than half. Add the chicken stock, season with salt and reduce by half.
Arrange chicken on serving plates or a platter. Spoon the juices over.
**Note to cook: if increasing amount of marinade, take care to keep it in “paste” form. Too much lemon juice will thin it down too much.