Good-bye August, hello summer: Chicken under a brick on the grill

Goodbye August.

With the cool, dry days of the past month, we were well into thoughts of roast chicken and warming harvest soups. But wait! There’s more.

Summer’s back this week (and actually, to be precise, will be around for another three). The heat and humidity are returning, and we are not retiring the grill quite yet.

Pollo al mattone, chicken under a brick, comes from the Italians. Remove the backbone (or ask the butcher to do it), flatten the chicken, and weight it on the grill with bricks or a heavy cast-iron pan. The result is a shorter cooking time, crispy skin, and juicy meat. Because the temperature of a charcoal grill is harder to control than that of a gas grill, adjust the time as necessary and use a thermometer. If the coals are too hot and the skin starts to burn, rake them to one side and set the chicken on the other side away from direct heat.

Grilled chicken under a brick with oranges and saffron
Serves 4
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons hot water
Finely grated rind of 1 orange
Juice of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. In a small bowl, crumble the saffron threads. Cover with hot water and let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the orange rind, orange juice, lime juice, ginger, olive oil, honey, and salt.

1 (4-pound) chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
Marinade (above)
Oil for the grill

1. With kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut along each side of the backbone and remove it. Save for stock. Turn the chicken over and press firmly on the breastbone to flatten it. Pat dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

2. In a gallon-size zipper bag, place the chicken. Add the marinade and close the bag. Tip the bag back and forth to distribute the marinade. Set on a plate and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

3. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill at medium heat (350 degrees.) Wrap 2 bricks with aluminum foil. With tongs, wipe the grill grates with a small folded piece of paper towel dipped in oil.

5. Remove the chicken from the marinade. Set it on the grill with the skin side down and weight each half with the bricks. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and golden. Remove the bricks.

6. With grill mitts or tongs, turn the chicken over and replace the bricks. Cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer registers 165 degrees.

7. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and cut into serving pieces. 


Wish you were here: chowdah, salmon, and vacation food

There’s only so much fried food you can consume in a week, but I did my best to fill a year’s quota in seven short days. Fried clams, fried Pemaquid oysters, fried calamari, and of course, French fries by the plateful. A little coleslaw for balance. That’s mostly what’s on offer on the peninsulas that jut out all along the Maine coast like slender fingers. Lobster marinas and their attached picnic tables dockside proffer platters of boiled lobsters with coleslaw, sometimes with steamed clams, and if you’re lucky, corn on the cob. What’s not to like?

Yet there comes a time for a break. I had brought the remnants in my refrigerator in a cooler, just in case we were feeling too lazy to leave the cottage after a day of doing a whole lot of nothing. Well that day did come.  I started with the intention of making corn chowder since it requires only a few ingredients. We had local corn and potatoes….but man of the house, not quite sated,  thought lobster would add a nice touch, so he went down to the marina about half a mile away, and asked for a cooked lobster. By the time he dropped the $5.50 (!) for the lobster, I was well along with the rest of the soup.

Corn and/or seafood chowder recipe by the seat of your pants
Serves 2 to 4
You only need a large saucepan or small soup pot to make this, and most cottages, though poorly equipped, manage to provide a pot and a microwave. We made this for two, but ended up with enough for two meals.

2 tablespoons butter
2 bunches of scallions, or 1 onion, chopped
2 handfuls of small potatoes, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 ears of corn
A 1 1/2 pound cooked lobster, or clams, or fish (all optional)

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the scallions or onions and sauté until soft. Add the diced potatoes, salt, pepper and enough water to barely cover the potatoes. Cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are soft. With a potato masher or spoon, break up some of the potatoes to add body to the soup.

2. Meanwhile, cook the unshucked corn in the microwave. Check out the how-to here on Simply Recipes (thanks, Elise.) Once the corn has cooled, slice off the kernels.

3. Set the cooked lobster in a colander over a bowl to catch the juices. Remove the meat and cut it into bite sized pieces. Add the juices that collect in the bowl to the soup pot.

4. Add the corn to the soup, and enough milk to your satisfaction. Bring it to a simmer and stir in the lobster.

Note: You can omit the seafood and enjoy plain ol’ corn chowder. If you want to use clams, steam them and add the steaming water to the pot. Shuck the clams and add them as you do the lobster above. Fish in chunks, shrimp, or scallops can all go into the pot when the milk heats up. Cook for a few minutes, or until seafood is done.

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Here’s another recipe (I’m deluging you dear friends) that should go on your vacation menu. You can do it with or without the potatoes and tomatoes.

Salmon with summer herbs, potatoes, and tomatoes
Serves 4
Roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet, and after about fifteen minutes, pop the fish in the oven for a no-stress quick supper.  Use whatever herbs you have on hand.
Oil for the baking sheet and baking dish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
3 scallions, finely sliced
1 pound small potatoes, halved
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet
Juice of 1 lemon
1 lemon, quartered, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Oil a rimmed baking sheet and a large ceramic or glass baking dish.

2. In a small bowl, combine the dill, parsley, oregano, and scallions.

3. In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on half of the baking sheet in a single layer.

4. In the same bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on the second half of the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and the potatoes are browned.

5. Meanwhile, in the baking dish, place the salmon with the flesh side up. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until the salmon is opaque in the center.

6. Transfer the fish to a platter and serve surrounded by tomatoes and potatoes.

And now for the vacation pictures. Wildflowers, docks, cottages, water views, rocky shorelines—all very cliché. What is a cliché other than a truism that has too often been repeated? Luckily, you can skip this part without hurting my feelings—I’ll never know!

Good morning

Room with a view


Sunday supper and more: Eggplant gratin and a pasta dish (a two-fer!)

If Man of the House doesn’t complain too much about repetition, I am going to make this as often as I can get away with from now until the time of last tomato standing. It’s that good. I’ve been contributing regularly to the Sunday Supper and More column, a feature in the Boston Globe Wednesday food section, for quite some time now and I can tell you, this one’s a keeper. You have to give yourself a little time, but it’s not a lasagna-type effort. The time is in the oven—peeled eggplant slices go in it twice: first baked until tender on a baking sheet, and then baked in the gratin. But like I said, the time is in the oven, and the endgame is meltingly soft eggplant that dreamily blends into the tomato and ricotta. You could use goat cheese if you want something a bit more flavor forward, but consider cutting it with ricotta to tone it down.

The “and more” part of the dish are the leftovers, a mostly maligned concept. Here they morph into a sensational (and quick) pasta dish. More basil and fresh cherry tomatoes brighten it up, and dinner is done, presto!

This was the first dish I made in our “new” kitchen, which is not new at all, but a throwback to the seventies, in the style of the duct-tape approach to living of the elderly couple who preceded us. I’m happy to report, despite trepidations, it went well.


Kale and hearty (Apple and kale salad recipe)

It took some time for me to warm up to raw kale in a salad. It was always an eat-it-cuz-it’s-healthy winter staple, sautéed it in a little olive oil with garlic and some lemon or vinegar. In fact, kale’s rise in popularity mystifies me. Despite its healthful qualities, its bitterness is an acquired taste.  For some, kale’s rise in status has a downside. A mention of the vegetable elicits an eye-roll from my Brooklyn-living Ace Reporter son, always the contrarian.

Cliché or not, kale is here to stay, so I made a stab at coming up with a salad I would want to revisit time and again, especially now that it’s in all the farmers’ markets. One could argue that it is a beautiful leafy green that is hard to resist.

Cut into ribbons, sturdy kale can stand up to a strong, tangy dressing like this one, made with cream and lemon instead of oil and vinegar, and spiked with plenty of mustard. Toast some walnuts, throw in thirst-quenching apples, add spicy radishes to the mix, and you have an abundance of flavors that will awaken your taste buds. That long, cold winter is finally ancient history.

Chopped kale salad with apples and creamy mustard dressing
Serves 4

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 to 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard (to taste)
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a bowl, stir the cream, Dijon mustard, grainy mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper together.

1/2 cup walnuts
1 bunch lacinato (Tuscan) kale
1/2 small head radicchio, cut into thin ribbons
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into bite-size matchsticks
4 radishes, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spread the walnuts on a pie pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasty and fragrant. Cool.

3. Fold the kale leaves in half lengthwise, and with a knife, strip out the stems. Stack the leaves and cut them into thin ribbons.

4. In a bowl, combine the kale, radicchio, apples, radishes, and walnuts. Toss with the dressing and serve.