One of our favorite dishes when we’re in Italy is pollo al mattone, a flattened chicken cooked in a frying pan under considerable weight (mattone = brick) until it’s deeply browned and the skin is that incomparable crispy stuff of dreams. We’ve tried it in Italy without success. We’ve even bought the special-purpose ceramic cooker that’s sold for the purpose: bottom like a tagine bottom and top like a very thick lid. We used a small bird called gallinetta which seemed about the same size as those we’d been served. Not so pretty: not crisp even after long cooking.
Our favorite version was served at Cecco in Pescia (once the regional special occasion destination; now sadly closed) with a close second at Da Giulio in Lucca. In fact, Patricia Wells in her Trattoria cookbook says that she got her recipe from visiting the kitchen at Da Giulio. Here’s the Da Giulio version:
She wasn’t paying much attention because she calls for a four pound chicken. In fact the dish is successfully made only with a cornish hen of about two pounds (example below from the Star Market).
When I saw the very inexpensive cornish hens at the Star I decided it was time to try again. There’s nothing complicated about it. Just cut the backbone off and thoroughly flatten the bird, breaking whatever bones need breaking.
Salt and pepper and then place skin down in a cast iron frying pan with lots of weight on top over medium-high heat for 12 minutes; flip for 12 minutes on the other side (skin up). Below, there’s aluminum foil on top of the pollo, then a second cast iron pan with a bottle of peanut oil on top. (Use the heaviest thing available!)
Serve with lots of lemon wedges and salt. (Below, we covered it with fresh rosemary.)