Moroccan Spiced Chicken under a Brick

Morroccan Chicken

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.


Moroccan Spiced Chicken under a Brick
Serves 4

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.  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.

Prepare Chicken:
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.

In Bed with Bouchon

Bouchon1 Yep, that pretty much sums it up.  I am home sick, and I have spent a quiet morning in bed reading my Bouchon cookbook cover to cover.  It makes for good reading.  Not only are the recipes spot on and authentically French bistro cuisine, but the essays wonderfully articulate the essence, philosophy, and ambience of bistro cooking.  It makes me very happy.

Actually, bistro food should make all of us happy. It’s comforting, generous, convivial, and unpretentiously rooted in French tradition. Interestingly, the excellence of Bouchon Restaurant has made it a destination of sorts requiring advance reservation, but typical bistro dining is accessible, local and immediate throughout France. Found in every neighborhood, soothing in its predictability, comfortably well worn in its ambience, and satisfying in its timelessness, the French bistro is a home away from home.
I became familiar with bistros when I lived in Paris and then Geneva.  The bistro was the go-to restaurant for consistent, delicious, and fun food.  Welcoming, bustling, and casually elegant, I knew what I could get – whether it was a date night or a group dinner, whether I was pregnant or with young children in tow.  Now, years later, there isn’t a bistro in my neighborhood, and I don’t have a standing reservation at Bouchon, but I do cook bistro fare at home.  It’s perfect for entertaining and families, and since my family was raised eating bistro food in Europe, it’s one of our preferred cuisines  for home cooking.
Roast chicken is a staple in bistro cuisine.  Inspired by recipes in both the Bouchon and Zuni CaféCookbooks, I roast the chicken in an oven-proof skillet in a very hot oven.  Nearly an oven to table dish, all it requires is resting before carving and capturing the delicious juices from the bird for basting and serving.  Save the bones to make chicken stock after the meal.
Roast Chicken
Serves 2-4
One 3-4 pound organic chicken
4 thyme, sage or rosemary sprigs
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Salt the chicken:
Rinse the chicken and pat dry thoroghly with kitchen towels outside and inside the cavity.  Sprinkle all over with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate up to 24 hours before continuing.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. (225 C.)
Slide your finger under the skin of each breast.  Insert an herb sprig in the pocket.  Repeat with the skin at the thighs.
Place chicken breast-side up in an oven-proof skillet or shallow roasting pan.  Place the chicken in the oven.  Roast 30 minutes, then turn chicken over breast-side down.  Roast additional 20 minutes.  Turn chicken over, breast-side up.  Roast 10 minutes more or until done.
Remove from oven, baste chicken with juices.  Transfer chicken to a cutting board, and let rest 15 minutes.
Pour fat from skillet, leaving drippings in pan.  Pour any juices from resting chicken into pan.  Add 1-2 tablespoons water or chicken stock into pan and deglaze.  Keep warm.
Carve chicken and arrange on warm serving platter.  Spoon juices over chicken.
Garnish with additional herb sprigs. Serve with  a green salad and roasted potatoes.