Pollo al Mattone, Or Chicken Under a Brick

A long while ago, I got a note saying, “Hi, I am searching for an Italian dish called Pollo al Mattone, which is cooked with a brick to weigh it down and make it crispy.” Pollo al mattone is crispy, and brings back memories of childhood, when we would stay at a friend’s hotel on the Tuscan coast, where Beppe, Laura’s father, would grill chickens out back in a little hearth scooped out of the sand. I think he may have used blocks of basalt (they were dark) instead of brick to flatten the birds, which tasted wonderful.

You’ll need:

  • Chickens sufficient to feed your party, split and with their sternums removed
  • The herbs of choice (see below)
  • Clean bricks or non-porous blocks of stone (Italians often use small basalt blocks of the sort used as paving stones instead of bricks — you don’t want a porous rock such as a sandstone that has absorbed moisture, because as it heats it could crumble or even explode)

In introducing Pollo al Mattone in La Cucina Toscana, Giovanni Righi Parenti says it’s extremely old: Frescos depicting what appears to be a grill with a chicken being flattened by a stone occur in Etruscan tombs. Here are his instructions:

Clean the bird, chop off the neck (many Italian chickens still come with neck and head attached), and split it up the breast (I would perhaps split it up the back), then press it flat and pound it well with the flat of a thick-bladed knife, as if you were pounding a cutlet. Make a rub by mincing a few leaves of sage, one or two cloves of garlic, salt, abundant freshly ground black pepper, and a little red pepper. Rub the rub into the meat, rub it with abundant olive oil, and set it aside until you are ready to grill it (if you do this do this the day before, letting it marinate in the oil, you won’t have to baste as you grill).

Once the coals are ready (you want them hot but not searingly hot) lay the bird over them and place a well-cleaned brick over it to help keep it flat. Use a potholder to lift the brick when it’s time to turn the bird over. Mr. Parenti suggests 15-20 minutes’ cooking time, which in my experience isn’t enough — I often grill chicken for close to an hour. Exactly how long you do cook the bird will depend upon its size and the heat of the fire; it will be done when you sick a skewer into the wing joint and the juices run clear. Mr. Parenti also notes that if you do not marinate the bird in olive oil, you will have to baste it with olive oil repeatedly as it cooks lest it dry out.

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Categories: Recipes from Rome & Lazio, Cucina Romana e Laziale, Tuscan Meat Recipes, Whole Chickens and Other Birds

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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One Comment on “Pollo al Mattone, Or Chicken Under a Brick”

  1. February 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    I can attest just how delicious chicken tastes when it’s made this way, and I’ve always wondered just what it is that makes it so delicious. Yes, weighing down the chicken helps ensure even cooking but there’s got to be something more to it… Etruscan magic?

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