Cooking With Cobblestones, The Stone Soup of the New Millenium

30 Mar
Rooster in grass.

Rooster in grass.

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?…

potholes are almost as good as municipal building sites for sourcing your smothering brick.Destined to be hastily smothered by sticky blacktop, liberation is a duty, not a crime. I have used clay bricks, but prefer granite cobbles. The best smothering cobbles are found art. This morning I passed this pothole, yanked the car to the side of the road, slapped on the hazards and poked around the crater

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.


That 2 lb. yardbird on the set at Stunt Foodways headquarters

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

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.

place bird skin-side down in heavy skillet

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.

I use a diner plate I rescued from an estate sale

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.

all important application of the brick

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.

Gear alert: Polka dot shirtwaist dress smart, sheer apron? What the hell.

Gear alert: butcher's apron smart, flipflops stupid.

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.

Chicken and stock for gravy cook together

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.

Smothered, sure, but by what?

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.


9 Responses to “Cooking With Cobblestones, The Stone Soup of the New Millenium”

  1. nshields279 March 30, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    Now that is a recipe not for the faint of heart.

    • Manny Howard March 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

      As long as you don’t have too much of a problem liberating municipal property, it’s not so bad. It all about the cobble.

  2. EatingVideo March 30, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    That’s a good bird but you missed the chance to use the word spatchcock or spatchcocking which is the technique you describe for flattening the bird by removing the spine. Why not heat the stone in the oven and apply it directly on the chicken to act as a dutch oven and cook at the same time it presses. That’s where my spatchcock would go

    • Manny Howard March 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      Spatchcock! Not one more backless bird will exit my kitchen without a hot rock on its not-back. But what is clean-up like for spatchcock?

      • EatingVideo March 31, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

        what is this “clean up” you speak of

    • Manny Howard March 31, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

      Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, 1999 Oxford University Press

      “Spatchcock, a culinary term, met in cookery books of the 18th and 19th centuries, and revived towards the end of the 20th century, which is said to be of Irish origin. The theory is that the word is an abbreviation of ‘dispatch cock’, a phrase used to indicate a summary way of gilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat. See also, however, spitchcock.”
      “Spitchcock, an obsolete culinary term which applied to a method of grilling pieces of eel after dressing them with breadcrumbs and chopped herbs. But the matter is obscure (Hanne Glasse, 1747, spells the word ‘pitchcock’ and omits the herbs) and there is a suspicious resemblance between this term and spatchcock.”

  3. Sally Schneider April 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    I’m into spatchcocking myself. Here’s my version, done with a heavy beach rock that I use as door stopper and terrine weight. It fits into my view of rocks as essential household tools….


  1. Smothered Chicken and Foodies - March 31, 2011

    […] a blog entry from a guy who cooks “smothered chicken” by using a cobblestone to hold down the […]

  2. 404 Not Found - April 1, 2011

    […] Comments Here’s a blog entry from a guy who cooks “smothered chicken” by using a cobblestone to hold down the […]

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