Occasionally, you stumble upon a dish so unique, so clever, and so delicious you can’t believe it hasn’t been around forever. Then, you find out…It has. Such was the experience I had in the summer of 1994 when visiting Campanile Restaurant in Los Angeles.
Campanile, the (then) cutting-edge New American cuisine restaurant founded in 1989 by Chef Mark Peel and his (then) wife, Iconic Artisan Bread Baker and Pastry Chef Nancy Silverton, was also the home of the original La Brea Bakery and boasted creative menus using top-quality farmers’ market ingredients. Its quality and consistency helped set the tone for the Los Angeles dining movement in the 1990s, and sadly, it closed just a couple years ago.
It came about that while touring America’s hottest culinary destinations that summer (all in preparation for opening Epoch Restaurant’s new Tribute Restaurant in Farmington Hills), I had the opportunity to have lunch at the wildly popular Campanile. The menu was very trendy and listed something called Brick Pressed Chicken. What? I had to try it. It was fantastic. No, it was magical. Well, about as magical as a chicken gets I guess. It was everything you’d ever hope a boneless, skin-on chicken breast could be–crunchy, golden-brown crisp on the outside and juicy, moist and tender on the inside.
It doesn’t get ANY better than that my friends. Every chicken should end its career as Bricked Pressed, I thought. I could even imagine the Colonel being jealous of Mark’s secret recipe! Later, after lunch, I had the opportunity to chat with Mark and Nancy and told them how much I enjoyed my entire meal, but especially the chicken. He shared his method with me, but I never asked where he learned it or if he actually invented it. Years later, I don’t remember the circumstances, but I discovered that Brick Pressed Chicken goes back about as far as bricks do. And that’s a long time.
In Spanish, it’s called Pollo Al Mattone (Brick Pressed Chicken), but other cultures have their own version. The method Chef Mark Peel used so many times to impress the critics is one that is as much science as it is culinary art–and one that works. The basic principle is that the additional weight of the brick presses the chicken’s skin against the hot pan, rendering out the chicken’s skin fat to make it crisp while at the same time sealing in the juices of the meat to make it moist.
For a long time, I had it in my go-to culinary repertoire, and I still occasionally make this simple dish. When I do, I remember sitting at a small table next to the fountain in the middle of the interior courtyard, which was Campanile’s signature décor, enjoying this wonderful creation for the first time. There’s not much to the recipe, and whether you choose to season your chicken with herbs or just use salt and pepper, the genius is in the technique’s simplicity.
Brick Pressed Chicken (Serves 2)
- 2 Boneless, Skin-on Chicken Breasts
- 1 TBSP Lemon Juice
- 1 to 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- ¼ to ½ tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- To Taste Any Herbs You Might Like
- 2 to 3 TBSP Olive Oil
- 2 Bricks (SOLID)
1. Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Pour the lemon juice over the chicken and spread it with your hands to coat the breasts on both sides.
3. Lightly salt and pepper the chicken.
4. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
5. Remove the chicken from the fridge and pound flat with a meat pounder between 2 pieces of plastic film. This is so that it lies flat when pressed with a brick.
6. Heat a large, heavy skillet and two clean bricks over medium-high heat until VERY HOT. You can also place the bricks in a 400 F oven for 1 hour. Then, use a hot mitt to place them on the chicken.
7. Paint the chicken on both sides with olive oil once again, and place the chicken in the skillet side by side, skin side down. Then place the bricks on top, 1 brick on each of the 2 breasts.
8. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the chicken for 10 minutes.
9. Remove the bricks, turn the chicken over and replace the bricks. Repeat the turning process every 5 to 8 minutes.
10. Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes total or until the juices run clear when the breast is pierced. Your chicken breasts will be crisp and golden on the outside and juicy on the inside.