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Sous Vide: Brick chicken (al mattone)

You can call it “al mattone” if you like, but there is no need to Italianize this dish…I have seen it done by any number of cooks who had no idea what “al mattone” even referred to. For that matter, the name “Brick chicken” has its own alliterative cachet…


For the Brick Chicken
Chicken, one each, cut in half, with the backbone split or removed.
Chicken liver, however many come in the chicken (today, my chicken came with two).
Bacon, 1-2 pieces, depending on how many livers came inside your chicken. Sometimes there is no liver inside. If this occurs, you can either buy some chicken livers or skip this step!
S+P as needed.

Balsamic vinegar, to drizzle.

Parsley, chopped, 1 bunch;
I use a food processor with a separate blade devoted only to this purpose. I don’t run it through the dishwasher either.

For the Grilled Vegetables:
Fresh corn (in season), one ear without the husk.
Bell Peppers: I try to have as many colors as possible, but we really only need about the equivalent of one whole pepper for this presentation–I had red and green today.
Onion, one each, whole.
Celery Heart: People always throw this away or put it in stock, but it’s actually quite good. See below for how to carve it.

This dish is extraordinarily simple, so we will offer up two alternative methods of executing it. Even though It is commonly cooked over coals or in a smoker, today we will accommodate rainy day cooks and apartment dwellers.

Restaurant menu scribes avoid using English to describe food as if it were somehow shameful or amateurish. Meanwhile, we Americans consider ourselves self-righteously superior in every way until we peruse a menu with a few foreign words strategically laced into it. The practice of using foreign languages to tart up menus is a time honored tradition that is here to stay. I suppose in ancient Italian eateries, the proprietor would scrawl daily specials on a sheet of slate in Latin as an effort to intrigue and impress the guests. The Italian language sounds exotic and romantic to Americans; not so much to Italians themselves.

It does not matter if chicken al mattone is Italian in origin or not. Like the invention of the wheel, the idea of putting a weight on an irregularly shaped yard-bird probably dawned on primitive cooks in numerous locations simultaneously.

A Brick by Any Other Name

The idea is simple. The misshapen half chicken is seasoned and then pressed as flat as possible under a weight. I use steak/bacon weights common in coffee shops. The steady pressure equalizes the distribution of heat. Cooks are always in a hurry, and they tend to over-use them–pressing down to accelerate the cooking. This squeezes out juices, but does little else. Let the weight do the work.

I use two Ziploc Gallon Freezer bags to envelop the chickens instead of the commonly used vacuum machines. The rib bones on the inside of the chicken are sharp enough to puncture the bag if vacuum is applied. If you use the method explained HERE,(click the link) this is much less likely to occur.

Sous vide process the chicken @
133F/56CX4 hours, shock in ice water to 70F/21C, and then refrigerate to 40F/4C.

Process the liver(s) @
133F/56CX1 hour, shock in ice water to 70F/21C, and then refrigerate to 40F/4C.

Blanche the bacon in a 350F/176C oven until rendered but not crisp, approximately 14 minutes. Chop the parsley, and spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry a bit–this helps prevent clumping. Remove the chicken from the bag, harvest and save any juices, and pat the chicken dry with a clean towel. This prevents sticking. Remove the wing so it doesn’t interfere with the browning of the skin on the breast. It goes on the griddle too, so the cook can test the seasoning later without hacking off a piece of the presentation.

Season the chicken generously on both sides. I use an all-purpose rub that I make with equal amounts of paprika, cayenne, black pepper, sugar, fennel, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and a generous amount of dried parsley. I keep the salt separate so that I can determine exactly how much I am using.

I have a cast-iron griddle with ridges on one side and a smooth surface on the other. We did this chicken on the ridged side of the griddle. I also put a sheet of lightly oiled parchment between the chicken and the griddle–this minimizes the mess. Once you are done, rather than clean the griddle, you just throw away the sheet. Below, you can see how thick the chicken is at this early stage–I actually have two weights on it at this point.

We did the other chicken in a flat bottomed, 10″/25cm stainless steel skillet.

This can also be done over coals in a barbecue or smoker, but the weight tends to press out some fat. This gives it a tendency to catch fire–careful monitoring is necessary. I adjust the heat to approximately

You want to hear a slow sizzle. If you hear a popping noise, the pan is too hot. If you hear a simmering, steaming sound, it is too cool. Once you hit that happy medium, give the chicken at least half an hour on the skin side. Avoid moving it around. Once you get the desired color on the skin side, carefully turn the chicken over. If it breaks apart, not to worry–it will not affect results. It’s just nice to have it all in one piece.

Return the weight, and continue searing for another fifteen minutes–about half the time it spent on the skin side. While you wait, wrap the chicken livers in the softened bacon and hold them together with a skewer. I cooked them as soon as I finished the chicken and used them as garnish.

When completed, you should have something like this…

and like this from the pan…

So far, so good! I only have one griddle, and one pan, and just a regular stove (induction). If you want to have grilled vegetables to go with your chicken, you must decide which should be done first. The decision was really pretty easy–do the vegetables first and let them wait for the chicken instead of the other way around. Bell Peppers: You can sous vide process the peppers if you want, but I usually do not. Vacuum the other vegetables separately, and process them according to these guidelines:

183/84CX4 hours, shock to 70F/21C, refrigerate to 40F/4C.

183/84CX1 hour, shock to 70F/21C, refrigerate to 40F/4C.

Celery Heart: Cut the root end to about 6″/15cm and remove the outer stalks if they are a little woody. Slit the celery root in half “lengthwise.” See below..

Process the celery heart @183/84CX1 hour, shock to 70F/21C, refrigerate to 40F/4C.

Remove the vegetables from the bags. Carefully peel the onion, leaving the root end intact, and cut in quarters (or thick rings). Cut the corn into 6 segments. Toss with the celery heart in some of the chicken seasoning and a few drops of vegetable oil.

Heat the griddle/pan to

Sear them on the surface until they are brown, just like the chicken. I even use the weight to hold the peppers flat.

It is conceivable to peel the peppers, but they tend to lose their crunch–they look better like this, too.

Sear the peppers on the skin side only, using the weight to keep them flat. With a little patience, even the onion comes out looking good. There is a certain amount of luck involved.

Once the vegetables are done, put the chicken on. Meanwhile, arrange the vegetables on a platter something like this.

Drizzle with a little Balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with parsley.

Once the chicken is done, cut it apart at the joints and slice the breast into 4 pieces. Arrange on top of the already colorful vegetables. Up close…

And here’s those chicken livers wrapped in bacon.

The ultimate presentation takes a while, but you spend most of your time idle–this gives you time to keep up with the clean-up. If you do all the sous vide processing on one day, you can do the searing on the next day at your leisure, ending up with an impressive looking platter. It may be that some of the chicken and vegetables remain after service. When it comes time to rekindle, cut everything into bite sized pieces and process sous vide @
140F/60Cx2 hours.

Meanwhile, make or acquire some basic marinara sauce. There is no shame in opening a jar once in a while. Make, or buy some pasta. I made Garganelli for this, but they are a lot of work. You use a gnocchi board to roll up ridged tubes on a stick, and then dry them in the oven so they hold up.

They do come out looking pretty cool though…

Just buy some Penne, nobody will know the difference. With all that time on my hands, I made some stock from the chicken’s back and the usual vegetables..

I don’t seal the bag, I just add water to the solid ingredients until the whole thing sinks, and then drape the opening over the edge of my Lipavi container. If you fill the vessel full enough, the lid seals the whole thing up and holds the bag in place. Improvise a little! Mix some of the stock with some of the marinara and simmer down a bit. Cook the pasta, reserve on the side. Add the cut up grilled vegetables and some chicken to the sauce (everything is already hot), add a couple of pats of butter, check the seasoning. People always want to simmer the chicken in the sauce, but, remember, nothing is going into the chicken. Quite the opposite. Stir and toss the mixture until the butter melts, add some pasta, and grate some Reggiano on top–even Pecorino alla Romana, a suitable and more reasonably priced alternative.

Now, does that look like leftovers?

The pasta really is pretty cool–if you want to learn to make them, just search “Garganelli” on YouTube, a good place to find interesting and even amusing tutorials…she does them long ways, I do them sideways. You will see.

Just like they do it downtown!



When I bought the chicken for this demonstration, that little voice in my head told me I should at least provide an option or two for what might be a suitable accompaniment. Some of the familiar "antipasto" style grilled vegetables benefit from sous vide processing,and complement the rustic feel of this dish. It's not really "antipasto" unless it comes "before" the main meal, but we will serve it "with."

We will also design and create a "rekindled" version of our "pressed" chicken, conveniently reworked for a subsequent meal.

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