Lake Norman Magazine

A chef's friend: the mental culinary ghost

The mind of a chef is very complex, moving part of what makes each one unique, so when fleeting moments of creativity block occur some really strange things can happen.

We all have been there, pressed with coming up with a dinner or party idea, and we draw the proverbial blank. Most of the time, pressing hard doesn’t work. Standing there, pen to paper, waiting for something to pop into your head: that is pressure like none other, especially if your business or job depends on it. How can this be so hard? It is just food, right? ... Or is it?

When the pressure is really on, a chef has to be open-minded to almost anything and everything that could give even the slightest of a spark that will move him or her toward a great idea for a dish.

The mental culinary ghost is not something that visits every chef. In fact, as with most things supernatural, it is indeed the person’s willingness to receive such a gift that sets it in motion.

For example, I was standing next to the demolished house of a friend and talking to him about this project. Time stopped, and the thoughts were coming into focus in mental abbreviations: brick lemon hen rosemary backbone garlic.

After seeing and holding one of those bricks, I had it. A classic Tuscan technique of cooking chicken called “brick chicken.” The backbone of the chicken is removed, and the chicken is flattened out for even grilling. The brick comes in to start the grilling process by holding the searing chicken skin side down flat to the scorching hot grill grates and crisping up the skin. Then removing the brick, flipping the chicken over, and finishing the cooking process over indirect heat.

What most chefs don’t learn in culinary school is to always, always, always keep your eyes open to what’s around you even if it is a pile of bricks and the help of the ever-friendly mental culinary ghost.

The recipe below is a take on the classic Brick Chicken only this one personalizes it a bit for an easy dinner or party by using Cornish Hens. Give this quick, easy and simple recipe a try, and it will quickly be in your rotation.

Tuscan Grilled Brick Cornish Hens Serves 4 as Entrée 4 Each Cornish Hens- back bone removed, lay flat skin side up on baking tray 1 1/2 Cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil 3 Each Lemons - zest and juice of 2 lemons, reserve 1 lemon for garnish 1/4 Cup Fresh Rosemary - chopped medium, if using dry, 1 tablespoon crushed 3 Cloves Fresh Garlic - chopped fine 2 Each Green Onion - sliced, keep whites and green tops separate To Taste Kosher Salt To Taste Black Pepper 4 Each Bricks - covered with aluminum foil

Marinade: In a mixing bowl, place the lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper. Use a wire whip whisk to combine, then begin adding olive oil slowly while whisking until all the oil has been incorporated, then add whites of the green onions and mix. Pour marinade over the Cornish hens and let marinate or at least one hour.

Grill: Pre-heat grill for direct and indirect grilling, build fire on one side of the grill if using wood or charcoal. If using gas heat grill, use one or two burners on high.

Remove Cornish hens from marinade, letting excess drip off before placing on the grill, skin side down. Once Cornish hens have been placed on the grill, place a foil-covered brick on top of each Cornish hen. Watch for flare-ups. Closing the lid will reduce flare because less oxygen will keep the flames smaller.

Let Cornish hens cook skin side down for 4 to 6 minutes or until lightly brown with dark grill marks. Once hens have been seared, remove brick, flip, and place on the opposite side of the grill or on the top rack. Continue to cook with indirect heat, 250 degrees to 300 degrees, until the inside juices run clear (30 to 45 minutes). Do not place bricks on hens after flipping.

Remove from the grill and place on a large serving platter. Zest remaining lemon over the top of the hens, and then cut the lemon in half and squeeze juice over the hens. Garnish with the tops of the green onions and serve.

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