Archive for February 10th, 2009

Bricks in the Kitchen


One day last week I was catching up with the DVR’d Food Network shows I like to watch. Mostly, Barefoot Contessa, Tyler Florence –  that’s enough. If I watch too many shows, I would have way too many ideas floating around in my mind and wouldn’t get around to trying any of them. I usually find one or two to try each week and those that I have liked best were usually from Barefoot Contessa or Tyler Florence. 

I use her method for roasting beef tenderloin**. It never fails, and is so easy. Tyler’s dishes are usually great, but sometimes just a little too involved for me to make at the last minute. I do like his Ultimate Potato Gratin with the Savoy cabbage*** and prepare it several times a year.

Last night I was compelled to prepare a meal that Tyler Florence had on his show last week, “The Ultimate Brick Chicken”. It looked intriguing, weighting down the whole chicken with bricks while browning it in a skillet. The method was used to force as much surface area as possible to be in contact with the hot oil in the skillet. The cooking was finished in the oven while I made the recommended couscous and delicious yogurt sauce flavored with cilantro and mint, honey and lemon juice. The sauce was so good that I had to try a few – HA!  – spoonfuls. I think it would make a delicious salad dressing on its own. 

The chicken, a whole split chicken, backbone removed, and flattened, was rubbed with a Moroccan inspired spice mixture and allowed to rest in the frig for about 4 hours. Then it was into the hot skillet, bricks applied, and cooked for 15-20 minutes undisturbed on the burner, then flipped over, and finished in the oven for 35 minutes. It was served with the apricot, almond couscous, the recipe for which takes couscous to a whole new level. Delicious!

Here’s the recipe for the whole she-bang. It will become one of your favorites.

(You will need a brick a heavy rock, the afore-mentioned extra cast iron skillet, or something really heavy (and relatively clean) to lay atop the chicken. I had an old brick in the yard which I covered in foil. It wasn’t big enough to weight down the whole bird so I scrounged around and found another rock which did the trick.)

(Go to this link and  read the comments sections for other folk’s reviews of this meal. The photo shows the chicken and couscous served on flatbread seasoned and grilled. I didn’t fix that this time. If you can’t find a flat chicken, ask your butcher to remove the backbone of a whole chicken and flatten it for you. If you can’t do that, look for a “split chicken” in your grocery. I found one at Kroger. I suppose you could always use a cut-up chicken and cook  it the same way. Maybe I’ll try that next time.)


*Brick Chicken with Apricot Couscous

Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence

Prep Time: 15 min
Inactive Prep Time: 4 hr 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Level: Intermediate
Serves: 4 to 6 servings


  • 2 tablespoons cumin seed
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 whole free-range chicken (3 pounds), split (see directions below or have butcher split chicken for you)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Mint Yogurt Dressing. recipe follows
  • Apricot Couscous, recipe follows


Toast cumin, coriander and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over low heat until fragrant. In a clean spice grinder or coffee grinder, blend spices until fine. Add the toasted spices to a bowl with paprika and cayenne. Season with kosher salt. Stir in the olive oil and lemon juice.

Prepare chicken by splitting it down the back and removing the backbone, breast bone and rib cage. Lay the chicken out flat and rub the blended spices all over. Marinate for up to 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat a large cast iron skillet (or other heavy oven-proof pan) over medium-high heat. When hot, add a 2 count of extra-virgin olive oil and place the chicken skin side down in the pan. Cover it with a second cast iron pan (you could also use a more traditional foil-wrapped brick) immediately so the skin doesn’t have time to contract. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until chicken is golden brown and has a nice crust. Finish cooking in the oven for a further 20 to 25 minutes. Internal temperature between the leg and thigh should register 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, when cooked through. Serve with Mint Yogurt Dressing and Apricot Couscous.

Mint Yogurt Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/2 bunch chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 bunch fresh mint leaves
  • 2 green onions, green parts only
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

While chicken is cooking, combine yogurt, cilantro, mint, green onions, honey, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a blender. Blend until mixture is fully combined and has a smooth consistency.

Apricot Couscous:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, small dice
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds toasted, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, warm
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 scallions green parts only
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped plus leaves for garnish
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan add a 2 count of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the red onion, apricots and almonds and saute gently over low heat until translucent and slightly fragrant. Add the couscous then dump in the warm chicken broth. Stir with a fork to combine, add lemon zest and cover. Let sit for 10 minutes, then uncover and add the scallions, mint, and cilantro. Fluff again with a fork. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

Serve family-style on a large platter and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings




***The Ultimate Potato Gratin

Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence and the Food Network

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 35 min Level: Easy
Serves: 6 to 8 servings



  • 1 head savoy cabbage, cored, cleaned, and shredded
  • 1 (2-inch) piece slab bacon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 bunch fresh chives, finely chopped to 1/4 cup
  • 2 pounds baking potatoes, unpeeled and thinly sliced (about 1/8-inch), see Cook’s note*
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Finely shred the cabbage. Cut the bacon into 1/2-inch chunks. Place a small skillet over medium-low heat and fry the bacon, until crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to bacon fat in frying pan. When it has melted add 1/2 the garlic and give it a quick stir with a wooden spoon to soften. Add the cabbage and coat it with the butter. Slowly let it wilt. Add the bacon. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat and add most of the chives, reserving a little for the garnish.

Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9 by 13-inch ovenproof casserole dish. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, 1 1/2 cups of cream, 1 cup of Parmesan, and the remaining garlic. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using your hands, place a layer of potatoes in the casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan and repeat with 2 more layers. Spoon the cabbage mixture on top and spread it out evenly over the potatoes. Top it off with 2 more layers of potato and Parmesan. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream over the dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

Cover dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Leave for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh chives.

  • Cook’s Note: Slice the potatoes immediately before using so they don’t turn brown.



Copyright, 2001, Barefoot Contessa Parties!, All rights reserved

Prep Time: 5 min
Inactive Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 25 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 8 to 10 servings


  • 1 (4 to 5 pound) fillet of beef, trimmed and tied
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper


(Be sure to remove the beef from the frig an hour before cooking so that it can reach room temperature)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Place the beef on a sheet pan and pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Spread the butter on with your hands. Sprinkle evenly with the salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium-rare.

Remove the beef from the oven, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the strings and slice the fillet thickly.

Note: Be sure your oven is very clean or the high temperature will cause it to smoke.

Read Full Post »