Chicken Presseda

The name pressada indicates chicken pressed between two layers of lavender, and it is based on a dish made with thyme that I enjoyed in Italy, south of Naples. This is a true gardener’s recipe because few non-gardeners could afford to buy the amount of fresh lavender required!

The quick-cooking chicken first steams between two layers of freshly-cut lavender. Then the cooked chicken is stripped of lavender and quickly browned on a grill. Serve the chicken on rice pilaf or a bed of colorful mesclun. While you are eating you can add the leftover lavender foliage to the coals to produce a heady lavender fragrance.

6 to 8 chicken breasts or other cuts, bones and skins removed

Olive oil for brushing

5 gallon bucket loosely filled with fresh lavender foliage and flower stalks.

Light a fire in a charcoal grill. Meanwhile, rinse the chicken parts thoroughly under cold water and pat dry. Once the flames are out and the coals are white at the edges, arrange coals in a uniform layer. Place the grill rack over the coals and set a 10-inch-by-20-inch cast-iron pancake griddle on top of the rack. The griddle should be directly above the hot coals (less than ½ inch). Heat the griddle until it is nearly orange-hot. When oil dropped on the griddle dances and sizzles, you’re ready to begin. Quickly coat the griddle with olive oil, which prevents the herbs from sticking and makes cleaning easier.

DO NOT USE a PLASTIC BRUSH! The heat of the pan will melt the bristles.

Working quickly, layer up to 2 inches of lavender foliage on the griddle with the stems all running in one direction. Be sure to cover the griddle thoroughly with lavender and leave no holes. Lay the chicken on top of the lavender, with the lengths of the pieces perpendicular to the lengths of lavender. Cover the chicken thoroughly with another two inches of lavender foliage. Set a baking sheet on top of the chicken-and-lavender “sandwich.” Stack 5-10 bricks evenly on top of the baking sheet to compress the lavender and chicken (the pressada part). Because the heat supercharges the volatile essential oils in the lavender, the resulting steam and oil mixture quickly cook the chicken. The chicken may only need 5 to 10 minutes per side if the griddle was orange hot, 15-20 minutes if the charcoal wasn’t hot enough. When the chicken is done on one side (i.e., a knife score shows only white flesh), remove the bricks and baking sheet and use tongs to turn the entire sandwich as quickly as possible. The lavender and chicken will usually hold together enough to allow you to turn them as a unified whole. You’ll either amaze your guests or have to reassemble the lavender-and-chicken sandwich while eating humble pie. Practice makes perfect! When the chicken is juicy but no pink flesh shows when meat is tested with a knife, remove the bricks and baking sheet and the top layer of lavender foliage. Lift the chicken off the bottom layer of foliage and place on platter. Then remove lavender and the griddle from the grill rack. Quickly restoke the coals and place chicken pieces on the grill rack, setting them at a diagonal to the line of the rack. Briefly brown the chicken on both sides. Transfer to a serving platter.                                Source: The Lavender Garden by Robert Kourik