The Kitchen Economist: Instead of Fancy Culinary Gadgets, Just Use a Brick
Photo credit: SarahoftheorientA great panini press
The next time you're trolling the aisles of cooking supply stores, coveting that pricey panini press (the good ones can set you back $150) or even a retro bacon press (more like $10), consider taking a page from your grandmother's book (or your grandfather's, were he a mason), and use a brick instead. Bricks are easy to find, very cheap (often free), and have myriad uses in kitchens and gardens--and construction sites.
Find a good standard-sized brick, brush any lingering dirt (if you've obtained your brick from your backyard, say) from it, and wrap it tightly in tin foil. Fiat kitchen tool. To make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich, simply put your assembled sandwich in a cast-iron pan over low heat and set your brick squarely (okay, so it's a rectangle) on top of the sandwich. The combination of slow cooking and evenly applied pressure from the brick will give you a fantastic sandwich, with a crisp exterior and an interior that is thoroughly melted. (Flip the sandwich, repeat on the other side.)
A brick is also the key to making a pan bagnat, a glorious French pressed sandwich which is rather like a Niçoise salad captured inside a baguette. Assemble the sandwich, wrap it tightly in plastic, then put it on a plate and weigh the sandwich down with the brick. Left overnight in your refrigerator, the sandwich will compress nicely, the flavors and ingredients both condensing into something far greater than the sum of its parts.
Use your brick to weigh down salmon for gravlax (the usual method calls for balancing cans atop a plate, which is rather like booby-trapping your refrigerator). You can also use your brick to make a spatchcock chicken, perhaps the most common method of brick cooking.
For this technique, a classic Tuscan preparation called pollo al mattone, split and debone a whole chicken so that it flattens nicely, then cook the chicken under the brick in a large skillet. The flattened chicken cooks evenly, retaining its moisture as the skin crisps. For a Middle-eastern touch, sprinkle the chicken with za'atar before cooking. Serve with preserved lemons and toasted pita; perhaps rent the excellent 2005 Joseph Gordon-Levitt film "Brick."
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