I finally got a chance to experiment with my new-old grill, after much debating about which recipes from Planet Barbecue would be first. I wanted something primal, elegantly simple, and appropriate for the season, and since the lamburgers were a big hit, I figured it was best to move on to a different meat. My other requirement was to try and use something from the garden… which right now, is primarily herbs. The rosemary is absolutely flourishing – we have eight huge Tuscan upright rosemary growing along the street edge. They seem to be the only plant that thrives in poor soil, minimal (if any) watering, and our hot sun.
So, the Tuscan Chicken Under a Brick definitely caught my eye, as it features a whole chicken rubbed with fresh rosemary, sage, garlic, salt & pepper. Eventually I’ll get to my other chicken & rosemary combo, which involves skewering the chicken pieces on the long, rigid stems of the upright rosemary. But, one thing at a time!
Next, I had to incorporate some major vegetables, since grilling, for us, is certainly not going to be meat-centric. Grilled bell peppers were a great choice, since their acidity and vaguely carrot-like taste would balance out the meal. Plus, the bell pepper is suprisingly rich in nutrition – according to my Nutrition Almanac, the red ones have a high content of vitamin C, carotene and antioxidants, and help aid macular degeneration, bronchitis, colds, asthma, and cancer, among other things. I chose the Bell Pepper Salad with Capers & Pine Nuts, a decidedly Italian take.
Finally, I let the market decide the final item: grilled asparagus. Central Market has these huge, 1/2″ thick asparagus right now that are perfect for withstanding the heat of the open grill. I just brushed them with olive oil, sprinkled with salt & pepper, and they were ready to go.
The biggest revelation was the whole chicken on the grill. I’ve done roasted chicken and plenty of bone-in recipes on the stove, but oh dear, this was by far the best treatment of a whole chicken I’ve ever cooked. The meat absolutely fell off the bone, was so tender and directly flavored by the herbs and smoke. And it was pretty easy to make – the biggest challenge is ‘spatchcocking’ the chicken, which you can just have your butcher do anyway (if he’s a nice butcher).
Tuscan Chicken Under a Brick
adapted from Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp stemmed fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp stemmed fresh sage leaves
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp coarse kosher salt
One whole chicken, about 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, spatchcocked
one brick wrapped in foil
1. Combine the garlic, rosemary, sage, pepper on a cutting board and chop finely to make a paste. Add this to the salt in a small bowl to make the rub for the chicken.
2. I used the direct grilling method, which means over an open fire, without a lid, and over burning charcoals*. Preheat the grill to medium, or about 6 Mississippi’s with your hand about 3 inches above the grate.
3. Rub the chicken all over with the herb mixture, stuffing a little under the skin here and there. You may not need all of the rub; just set aside for another recipe.
4. Grill the chicken until crisp and golden brown on the bottom, about 15-20 minutes, with the foil-wrapped brick on top to keep it flat (I left my brick at the office, so I had to use a big river rock). Flip and go another 15-20 minutes on the breast side, and cook until the internal temperature of the thigh registers 170 or more. I probably cooked my bird a little more than necessary, but I loved the effect!
5. Place the chicken on a serving platter and let rest 5 minutes until you can handle it without burning yourself. The legs will easily pull away for serving, and the breast can be cut away from the bone or served bone-in.
Bell Pepper Salad with Capers & Pine Nuts
adapted from Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen
4 large bell peppers – green, red & yellow
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted golden brown for 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven
3 tbsp currants
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high, or about 2 Mississippi’s with your hand 3 inches above the grate (when cooking alongside the chicken, make two ‘zones’ – one with a stack of hot coals, and one with a single layer of medium hot).
2. Arrange the bell peppers on the grate and grill until darkly browned on all sides – about 20 minutes total. Transfer the charred peppers to a cutting board and let cool to room temperature.
3. Using a paring knife, scrape the charred skins off the peppers. Cut each pepper in half, and remove the veins & seeds. Cut into strips about 1/2 inch thick.
4. Arrange peppers in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and mix in the capers, currants, pine nuts and parsley. Season with salt & fresh ground pepper right before serving. Enjoy!
*A note about prepping & cleaning the grill: I used a chimney starter with about 1/2 bag of Mesquite charcoal. Light a crumpled newspaper in the bottom of the chimney starter, and let the whole thing burn & heat up for about 15 minutes. Once all the charcoals are reddened and smoking, dump the coals in the bottom of the grill. Let the fire go really hot for 5 minutes, then wire-brush the grate clean. Finally, oil the grates with vegetable oil, and you’re good to go. I never used the lid during the entire cooking process.