The worn wooden block Maria Monaselidze placed atop the spatchcocked chicken didn’t initially catch my attention. She was roasting the bird to later shred the meat for another recipe I had come to learn in her Tbilisi, Georgia kitchen. But then I tasted the chicken and realized I’d missed something vital.
She had removed the chicken’s backbone, then used the block to weigh down the spread-out bird, increasing its contact with the roasting pan. All that extra surface area produced golden, exceptionally crispy skin and moist, tender meat.
Turns out, Monaselidze was employing a technique known as tsitsila tabaka that’s common in the Caucasus region. While she prefers a wooden block and an oven, tradition often calls for foiled-wrapped bricks and starting the bird on the stovetop. However it’s done, the rendered fat in the pan typically serves as a base for a simple garlic sauce.
The approach is similar to Italy’s pollo alla mattone, or chicken under a brick. There, instead of simply seasoning the meat, cooks build flavor by marinating it in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs, such as rosemary, then searing the chicken, skin side down, with bricks on top. They then usually flip it and finish it in the oven.
At Milk Street, we found we could recreate the crispy golden skin without the pesky step of finding bricks or a wooden block. A layer of foil placed over the chicken, with a heavy pot or skillet set over that, provided plenty of weight. We not only got perfectly browned skin, but the meat was moist and tender. As a bonus, the chicken was done in about half the time traditional roasting takes.
Beyond that, we stuck close to Monaselidze’s recipe. She seasoned the spatchcocked chicken with just salt and pepper. We added coriander and granulated garlic, which contributed floral, toasty flavors. Letting the bird rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes helped the seasonings penetrate the skin and gave the surface time to dry out. (We also patted it dry with paper towels to improve browning.)
After trying it several ways, we found that starting the chicken breast down in the skillet produced the crispiest skin. So we seared it over medium with the foil and pot on top, checking every few minutes to ensure it was browning evenly. Once a golden crust developed, we flipped the chicken and finished it in a 450°F oven.
After roasting, we used the same skillet to create an easy pan sauce. We cooked garlic in butter, then deglazed the pan with chicken broth, scraping up the flavorful brown bits. Off heat, we stirred in cayenne pepper, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Spooned over the crispy chicken, the cilantro and garlic in the sauce reinforced the coriander and garlic in the spice rub.