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Dirty Rice/Rice Dressing and Pollo al Mattone (Tuscan Brick Chicken)

Some of you already know about my aversion to certain tropical fruits. I have no love for guavas (think smelly fruit on crowded Hong Kong buses in the heat of summer and you’ll begin to understand what I still associate guava with), passionfruits (to be fair, I’ve never encountered the fruit so I can only say I don’t like passionfruit juice which never fails to elicit many incredulous “What about POG?!” lines of questioning), and durians (unlike my mom and aunts, I’ve never acquired a taste for durians for which I believe Nathan and Toro are thankful). Being tropical fruits, these aren’t exactly common everyday ingredients here in Northern California so on most days, my picky-eating ways remain safely hidden away in the closet.

That is, until we talk about chicken.

Here’s the deal. I was raised on Cantonese food, which in my opinion has perfected chicken-cooking to an art form. I’m not talking about chicken in stir-fries or stews or soups; what I mean are dishes where chicken is the lead singer instead of the backup vocals. As a little girl, I ate chicken either poached in water/broth (白切雞, literally “white cut chicken”) or soy sauce (鼓油鷄). Sometimes, we would go out to dinner and order chickens baked/steamed in salt (鹽焗雞), a Hakka specialty. Less often, at fancy meals or banquets, I got to eat chicken fried without batter (炸子雞), with skin so crispy that it crackled like paper, to be dipped for a millisecond into a little dish of Szechuan-peppercorn-infused salt.

Even back then, when I only had single-digit years of chicken-eating training under my belt, there was never a doubt in my mind that 白切雞 was the only truly proper way to eat chicken – poached whole until just done, served at room temperature, dipped into an oily ginger-scallion sauce (yes, pretty much the exact sauce that now seems to be known as Momofuku/David Chang’s ginger-scallion sauce everywhere I turn). My obsession was such that I requested this dish nearly every time we went out to dinner. Before long, my family stopped asking, 白切雞 just magically appeared at dinner tables, and the lazy susan spun just so to position the plate in front of my little self.

When my family moved to the States, I had high hopes for branching out in my chicken repertoire. After all, isn’t chicken Americans’ favorite meat? At last, here’s my chance to show the world that I’m not as picky about chicken as they think I am! For the next 20 or so years, I tried chicken prepared every which way – roasted, batter-fried, grilled, you name it – but all of them inevitably left parts of the bird dry and tasteless and left me running back to my 白切雞 of yore.

Just as I was beginning to resign myself to a lifetime of chicken-related disappointments. Ben and Erin came to the rescue by introducing me first to Judy Rodgers’ way of roasting chicken, then Marcella Hazan’s two-lemons approach, then various ways of grilling chickens on beer cans. Now, I can’t say that any of those are better than my beloved 白切雞 (sorry guys – but you know how it is, food entrenched in memories and all that), but I will say that they’re inspiring enough to make me seek out other chicken preparations again.

Like this here brick chicken. Nathan and I recently learned about this method of cooking chicken at one of our favorite neighborhood spots, although I originally assumed it was a Cajun dish since it was served with a side of dirty rice. I’ll leave it to this wonderful post over on Pinch My Salt to teach you how to make the actually-not-Cajun-but-Italian brick chicken (pollo al mattone), including a video crash course on spatchcocking. Being grill-less folks, we used a cast-iron stove-top grill pan and improvised a more Cajun-y rub/marinade involving garlic, olive oil, paprika, and cayenne.

Now that we’re good on the chicken front, may I strongly suggest that it be served with some yes-actually-Cajun dirty rice (also known as rice dressing) on the side? I know. It requires working with chicken livers and hearts. I know. But I assure you that the result is more than worth it and might just be the thing if you have picky-eating ways of your own involving animal organs. Think of it as the perfect gateway dish into the world of offal – and hey, even Hank Shaw agrees, so you know it’s not just crazy talk.

Team BabyChili, much obliged for pulling me back from the brink of a one-chicken lifestyle. Now, can you do anything about my little tropical fruits problem?

Adapted from recipe in David Rosengarten’s It’s All American Food. Since we were serving this with chicken, we significantly decreased the total amount of meat used so it’s more “ricey” than meaty. Original recipe calls for twice the amount of almost everything (except rice) and inclusion of both ground pork and ground beef.

We bought our chicken giblets (hearts and livers) from the butcher section of an Asian market. If you have a preferred butcher, I suggest calling and asking them if they can set aside giblets for you to buy.

This recipe calls for making a teeny tiny amount of dark roux to help thicken the sauce base. Use the smallest pot you’ve got and watch it closely to prevent burning. The good news is that it won’t take nearly as long to darken a small volume of roux.

1½ Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
½ lb ground beef
½ lb chicken giblets (we used hearts and livers), finely chopped
1 Tbsp flour
~1 cup chicken stock
½ Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp cayenne
½ tsp herbes de provence (or ground sage, thyme, whatever you’ve got around)
¼ tsp paprika

3½ cups cooked rice
handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Cook the vegetables and meat: Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add in onions, green peppers, celery, and garlic. Saute until the vegetables have softened, which should take about 10 min or so. Add in the beef and giblets and cook until all the meat is done, brown, and slightly crumbly. You’ll need to stir it around every so often to make sure everything cooks.

Meanwhile, make the roux: Put 1/2 Tbsp of oil and the flour in a small pan. Using a whisk, stir the roux constantly while heating it over medium heat – don’t be tempted to use high heat or the roux might burn. It’ll take about 15-20 min for the roux to darken, about the color of melted dark chocolate. I highly suggest taking turns with the whisking duties if you’re cooking with someone else.

Throw everything together and simmer: Add the roux to the meat+vegetables mixture and stir. Add in chicken stock, Worcestershire, cayenne, herbs, and paprika. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour, giving the whole thing a stir occasionally.

Finishing: Mix in the rice. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley.


Yield: 6-8 servings
Time: about 2 hours

32 Comments

  1. 9 December 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Simpatico! I have been craving and eating ‘white cut chicken’ lately. You got my heart with this post. To my #aiya compadre, Cheers!

    • angi said:
      9 December 2010 at 7:39 pm

      Nothing will beat a perfectly-done ‘white cut chicken’ for me, even if you stuff a chicken with truffles and caviar. Glad you understand but of course, I knew you would, my #aiya brother! ;)

  2. Rosa said:
    9 December 2010 at 7:27 pm

    That looks delicious! I love the way you make that chicken grill.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • angi said:
      9 December 2010 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks Rosa! I do have to admit that the novelty of using a brick in cooking may have persuaded me to try this recipe. ;)

  3. elizabeth said:
    9 December 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Both my mother and MIL are notorious for only cooking skinless chicken breasts that veer just on this side of Styrofoam in texture and taste, mainly due to worries about salmonella and whatnot, so it took me a long time to actually embrace eating chicken as an adult. Even to this day I don’t like breast meat all that much because I’m haunted by bad texture. The husband has gone a long way in making me like it again, as one of his favorite things is spatchcocking and/or roasting a chicken; his response to my “what should we make for dinner” question has become “I could roast a chicken. I’m just putting that out there.”

    I have to try it your favorite way–it sounds SO good!

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 8:53 pm

      I’ve definitely had my fair share of terribly-cooked chicken breast, so I know what you mean, Elizabeth. I’m glad your husband is able to convince you that chicken doesn’t have to be terrible though. You should definitely be able to find ‘white-cut chicken’ in NYC – just head to Chinatown and look for one of the places with meats hanging near the window. Ask for extra ginger-scallions sauce, though, because that’s essential. :)

  4. saltyseattle said:
    9 December 2010 at 8:07 pm

    SHE’S BACK!!! My girlfriend with whom I fend of oddly-eager 30somethings is back! And with a sweet-ass post too- brick chicken is one of the best things ever and you’ve introduced me to a new way to serve it- dirty rice=genius- must make soon. xoxoxo, l

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 8:54 pm

      Yay, my SaltyGirlfriend in the house!! By the way, I would love to see your take on dirty rice, with that ridiculously creative mind of yours. ;)

  5. Jean said:
    9 December 2010 at 8:13 pm

    I’ve been so craving some good chicken dishes lately. That’s all I’ve been wanting to cook and I love brick chicken. I can’t stop looking at all that darkened, flavorful, crispy skin! Rice is a must with it, too, and I shall expand my horizons by trying out this dirty rice recipe. The chicken giblets won me over. :-)

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 8:55 pm

      Jean, I love that you’re won over by chicken giblets while most others would be more likely scared off by them. Then again, that’s why we get along so well, right? ;)

  6. Jun Belen said:
    9 December 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Gorgeous bowl of chicken and rice! Seriously. But I don’t think I can help with the guava/passion fruit/durian aversion. I like them but not crazy over them. I hope you’re okay with mangoes, though.

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 8:57 pm

      Don’t worry, Jun – I’m a mango ADDICT. Nathan has to physically stop me from buying a case of mangoes every time I see them, especially if they’re Kent mangoes.

  7. Mariko said:
    9 December 2010 at 11:37 pm

    I want to try that. i have a love hate relationship with chicken. I’ve never done well cooking it whole, but… It HAS to be better than chicken breast. I want to try that chicken your’re talking about growing up with. It sounds delicious.

    I think, if your experience with passion fruit is POG, it is sorely misrepresented. Especially store bought. It tastes nothing like the piney fresh fruit!
    If you come to Hawaii I’ll get you some fresh picked and change your mind forever.

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 8:59 pm

      Hmm I wonder if you can find ‘white-cut chicken’ in Hawaii. Most likely, if there are shops (in Chinatown?) with meats (BBQ pork, roast ducks) hanging near the window, that’s where you would find it. But! If I ever get to visit Hawaii, let’s trade – I’ll bring a white-cut chicken with me and trade you for some fresh passionfruit?

  8. 10 December 2010 at 5:57 am

    White cut chicken always satisfies. I know what you mean about other chickens not making the grade. (And oh, that’s crazy, re “David Chang’s ginger-scallion sauce”.)

    Like this post. =)

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 9:00 pm

      Yay for another white-cut chicken fan! And I know, it’s so funny about the ginger-scallion sauce. But at the same time, I think that’s the genius behind David Chang: take some ubiquitous sauce that’s usually thought of as an aside and make it the star. Brilliant!

  9. ben said:
    10 December 2010 at 10:13 am

    Now I know why you flinched when I ordered brick chicken at lunch the other day. :) As far as your little tropical fruits problem, I think Mariko is right. The only cure is to go to Hawaii, perhaps stay at a farm that serves fresh passion fruit and guava at the breakfast table alongside some runny eggs. It’s painful therapy, but it just might do the trick.

    • angi said:
      11 December 2010 at 9:01 pm

      Did I really flinch? More likely, it was to stop myself from saying “Hey! That’s what my next post is on!”

  10. 13 December 2010 at 6:35 am

    So, you’re telling me that this rice will change my mind about offal? That it will warrant the squeeky feeling I get when I touch chicken liver? If it doesn’t, will you promise to eat a durian to rival my suffering? ‘Cause durian is GROSS.

    I’m a weird commenter lately.

    • angi said:
      17 December 2010 at 11:45 pm

      BB, that IS what I’m telling you and maybe you will then associate the squeeky, chicken-liver feeling with deliciousness? And yes, if you don’t like the dirty rice, I will eat durian. Maybe not a whole durian (those things are big), but a significant chunk.

  11. Joyti said:
    14 December 2010 at 8:58 am

    Chicken is the only form of meat that I eat…so I understand your love for it. I have heard of poached chicken with the ginger-scallion sauce, I thought of it as ‘chicken rice’ (with rice being cooked in the leftover water)…but the brick-style chicken sounds and looks pretty delicious too.
    By the way, the photographs are amazing!

    • angi said:
      17 December 2010 at 11:47 pm

      Yes! Joyti, you’re talking about the chicken rice that is the national dish of Singapore right? Because that is definitely really similar to my white-cut chicken, although they add more condiments on top of it. I do love the way they cook the rice in the chicken-poaching water though. Hmm maybe I need to add yet another chicken preparation on my list.

  12. Jackie said:
    14 December 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Of COURSE Ken & I understand what you’re talking about, Angi! #Aiya – nothing better than the sweet, succulent Chinese chicken! My family gave me all the bones when I was a young ‘un. When we go out now they still pile a heap of bones on my plate, and I happily suck them dry. I’m a little weird. I don’t think I’ve ever had dirty rice, but I REALLY want some now…

    Durian is gross, but passionfruit & guava are amazing. I’m going to convert you. I’m not sure how, but I will…

    Jax x

    • angi said:
      17 December 2010 at 11:49 pm

      I knew you’d understand, Jackie! ;) And if you can convert me on those tropical fruits, I will be forever grateful. I’m gonna warn you that it’s not an easy task though. I can’t stop myself from making the gaggy face when I smell guava.

  13. sippitysup said:
    16 December 2010 at 12:05 am

    Getting the skin right is key. You got the skin right, so you must hold the key. GREG

    • angi said:
      17 December 2010 at 11:51 pm

      Greg the Poet? Thanks!

  14. Rich said:
    20 December 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Just by reading some of those ways you had chicken, I think I’ve become a more picky chicken eater. That deep fried skinless version sounds like greatness. I like this approach though, and the chicken livers in the dirty rice part may mean I’m making those today (I love chicken livers).

    • angi said:
      20 December 2010 at 7:24 pm

      I love that you love chicken livers, Rich. But I had a feeling you would … because you’re AWESOME like that. I’ll try to take photos of all those Cantonese chicken preps when I’m in Hong Kong this time around, so you can see that crispy paper chicken. :)

  15. 22 December 2010 at 4:38 am

    Great recipe! Happy Holidays!!

    • angi said:
      23 December 2010 at 12:28 am

      Thanks Maria and happy holidays to you too!

  16. Danielle said:
    3 February 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I think the white cut chicken is THE best way to prepare the bird, with roasting/grilling coming a close second. My favorite parts for grilling are the thighs and wings because the skin gets all crackled and crispy :)

    I am sorry to read that you don’t like durian, but do you happen to like papaya? If so, then a complementary tropical-fruit-eating friendship may be in the works!

    • angi said:
      8 February 2011 at 9:09 am

      Go, Team white-cut chicken! Sorry to disappoint on the durian front but I’m cool with papaya. So maybe we still can be friends??

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