It’s been going around town that a brick is no longer necessary if you intend to smother a chicken. Now, I’m a big fan of The Broke and Chic Project, but even colleagues who share a deep respect for one another have to disagree occasionally. Most any kind of orthodoxy makes me itch. I don’t believe this because fathers and mothers of the tradition say you must (here, thinking Prudhomme and Claiborne) you can’t smother a chicken (or pork chops, for that matter) without pressing the meat to the bottom of the skillet thereby maximizing thermal contact.
It is my considered belief that the entire recipe starts with brick selection. I have been heard to declare that each chicken smothered ha an ideal brick. To much brick and all the desired moisture is pressed from the bird and evaporates from the pan in the early stages of cooking, if your brick’s too little?…
until I found a perfect cobble for a 2 lb. bird. The cobble was 2/3 the size of industry standard, giving it just enough heft to press the dark meat to the bottom of the cast iron skillet, without being a burden on the tender white flesh.
All that’s left is to get it into the house and scrubbed clean and stacked in its proper place before Lisa notices that I’ve added to the collection.
At its most elements, beyond the skillet and the cobble the smothered chicken recipe calls for little more than one whole fresh chicken, salt, pepper, chicken stock, and Wondra. Flourishes such as coarsely chopped onion, poblano peppers, maybe some ground nutmeg. The following photo essay lays it out as easy as I know how to do it.
Cut the back out of the bird and, along with the wing tips (cut the tips off with kitchen scissors) and liver, neck, heart any other marginal bits and toss all on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven to brown them. As you’re preheating the oven put 16 oz. of chicken stock on very low simmer. When the nasty bits brown add them to the stock and simmer the lot.
Cutting the back out of the bird allows you to unfold it so that more bird makes contact with skillet, this helps assure that the meat cooks evenly. The trick to a smothered yard bird is evenly cooked dark and white meat.
Season both sides of the carcass and place skin-side down in the skillet. With the back cut out almost all the skin is touching the bottom or side of the pan. Cast iron conducts heat amazingly evenly.
Cover the bird with a plate that fits inside the skillet. If you don’t, it won’t matter how big or small that cobble is, it’s not going to transfer any weight to the bird.
Cook on a very low heat. With the brick on it, the bird is absorbing all the heat the skillet is giving up. Often times I have to take the pan of even the lowest heat or apply one of those cast iron buffers that lift the pan off the burner an inch or so. Cook 30-40 minutes until skin is golden brown and outer edge of visible meat is starting to turn white.
Flip the bird. When you do, take care not tear the crisp skin as you lift it from the pan.Replace the plate. Replace the brick.Cook on same low heat for about 10 minutes longer. Reserve cooked chicken on the plate used to cover skillet. scrape the biggest chunks of remnant chicken from the bottom of the skillet using metal spatula. Add scrapings to simmering stock.
Chop onions and peppers and will them in the fat in the skillet (5-8 minutes), then reserve them. Remove some chicken grease from the pan and reserve in a heat-proof container (if you have a heavy hand with the Wondra, you’ll have some fat a fallback).
You’re making a roux now, so you’re gonna have to gut this out a bit, you need to leave enough fat in the pan to toast the Wondra, but not so much that you end up with brown plaster of paris hardening in the pan. In Dubiss Constans!
Sprinkle Wondra in the pan and begin blending it into the fat. It should absorb the fat without drying it out, after a while it should turn golden brown, stay the course! You’re looking for a brown two shades darker than a Cheerio. The minute you hit that color start ladling in your hot stock. It’s gonna bubble. Don’t sweat it. Switch tools. Grab a stiff metal whisk and get to work, blend the magical flower in with the stock until you have half a skillet full of gravy. Now scatter the onions and peppers evenly into the gravy and put the chicken back in the pan skin side up and let cook for 5-10 minutes more, spooning the gravy over the chicken.
That’s thing, you need a brick to make smothered chicken, but it’s not the brick that smothers the chicken it is the gravy.
- Dry Brining & Chickenomics (realmendriveminivans.com)