Alice Waters likes the simplicity of this dish, a regular offering at the Café at Chez Panisse. It reflects her preference for recipes that don't require measurements. The chicken is cooked underneath the dish's namesake mattone, Italian for "brick." "Cooking chicken under a heavy weight results in an exceptionally crispy skin," she writes of this recipe in her classic cookbook The Art of Simple Food. The recipe is simple enough that it doesn't require measurements. To drink alongside, Waters would serve a light red, such as Beaujolais.
Pollo al Mattone
• 1 boneless, skin-on chicken breast per serving
• A few sprigs thyme
• Olive oil
1. Season chicken breasts well with salt, pepper and thyme. Drizzle them with olive oil, and let them marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Select a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold all the chicken. Place it over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil, then quickly and carefully place the chicken breasts in the pan, skin-side down. Arrange the chicken so that all the skin is in contact with the skillet. Optional: Add the thyme sprigs on top of the chicken.
3. Wrap another skillet of the same size with aluminum foil to use as a weight. Place the foil-wrapped skillet on top of the chicken. This will press all of the skin into contact with the hot skillet surface below and give it extra crispiness. Adjust the heat so that the chicken is sizzling at medium. The aim is to thoroughly brown and crisp the skin and render some of the fat without burning the skin or overcooking the meat.
4. Lift the weight and check the skin after a few minutes to see how it’s doing. If it’s darkening very quickly, lower the heat a bit. If the skin is still pale, raise the heat a little. By the time the skin is well-browned and crispy, about 10 to 12 minutes, the meat should be nearly cooked through.
5. At this point, remove the weight and carefully turn the chicken over with tongs. Discard the thyme sprigs, and spoon off some of the rendered fat. Cook for a few minutes more to finish. (Do not place the weight on the skin side or it will lose its crispiness.) Let the chicken drain briefly on paper towels before serving.