A chicken on every grill, Italian style

Chicken is not usually the first choice for grilling at my house.  We’ve eaten far too many dull, dry chicken breasts over the years.

Yet a whole chicken was one of the best things we grilled this year.  It was rich, juicy and intensely flavored.

The secret is the classic Italian method of cooking chicken under a brick– or al mattone.  The skin gets incredibly crisp and the meat stays moist.  Add a lively rub of garlic and rosemary and it’s irresistible.

I like to serve it on a bed of peppery arugula. The warm juices from the chicken make an ideal dressing.

If grilling season is winding down now where you live, you owe it to yourself to try this technique before packing the grill away for the winter.  You’ll never think of chicken the same way again.

This isn’t one of the fiddly dishes that require a lot of new ingredients or special equipment.  It helps to have a sturdy pair of poultry shears to butterfly the chicken but you can use a large chef’s knife for that chore if you’re careful.

The bricks for which the recipe is named are just inexpensive construction materials wrapped in foil.  We cleaned up and wrapped a rectangular concrete stepping stone we already had, instead, and it works just fine.  A heavy skillet weighted with a couple of cans is an alternative.

Although it’s fun to pound the rub in a mortar and pestle, a blender or food processor will do the job.

Because the bird is butterflied first, it needs less time on the grill, which helps preserve its natural juices.  The bricks, which are preheated, also speed things up by ensuring the maximum surface of the chicken is exposed to the heat and the meat cooks uniformly.  No more undercooked thighs or sawdust dry breasts.

Chicken this good is making us reconsider our old prejudices.



Serves 4 

1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large handfuls of arugula, washed and dried

About an hour before you’re ready to begin cooking, remove chicken from refrigerator, rinse and pat dry with paper towels.   Place chicken, breast side down, on a large cutting board and, using heavy duty kitchen shears, cut along each side of the backbone all the way from top to bottom. Remove backbone and open chicken like a book.  Turn chicken over on the cutting board so the skin side faces up.  Place the palms of both hands together over the breast bone and press down hard, putting your weight behind it, to crack the bones and flatten the chicken.   Remove excess fat and dry again. Set aside on a large baking sheet.

In a large mortar or food processor, smash garlic and salt to a paste.  Chop rosemary finely and add to mortar with pepper.  Mash until a chunky paste is formed.  Stir in the zest from the lemon, reserving the fruit.

Rub garlic, rosemary and lemon paste onto the chicken, inside and out.  Set aside.  Preheat grill with two bricks, wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil, placed over the hottest section.

When you’re ready to cook, remove the bricks while you oil the grill rack with a thick wad of paper towels dipped in oil.  Place the chicken, skin side down, on the cooler side of the grill and cover with bricks.  Close grill lid and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove bricks from chicken and set aside while you turn the chicken over with a large spatula, being careful not to tear the skin, and move it to the hot side of the grill.  Cover chicken with bricks and close lid again.  Let cook for 15 minutes.  Keep a spray bottle at the ready to douse any flareups as the fat drips onto the coals or burners.  Remove bricks again, turn chicken over and leave it on the hot side of the grill.  Cook for about 5 minutes more, until an instant read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thicket part of the thigh.

Remove chicken to a  platter on which the arugula has been piled.  Cut reserved lemon into quarters and squeeze over chicken and greens.  Drizzle olive oil over all.   Let rest for 5 minutes and serve.

Aleta Watson