Monday, July 6, 2009

Italian Chicken Brick: The Perfect Pick-a-Nick Type Sandwich

Sheesh, sorry it's been a little while. Summer is in full swing and we have had friends and family visiting over the past coupla weeks. Having visitors is a great way to shake up your daily routine. One of the best parts about that is that it reminds me not to forget the "PLAY" part of my write-cook-eat-play-repeat mantra. I love showing people what this magical corner of the world has to offer, seeing their faces the first time they see whale spout, or a glacier, or streams filled with spawning salmon. Plus it gives me some new mouths to cook for and that gets me all excited.

Last week my in-laws were in town, with two thirteen-year old boys in tow, whom I got to take sea kayaking for their first time. Mother Nature didn't cooperate as well as I hoped. The wind came up while we were out, making the seas a bit choppy, and the sun hid behind a low blanket of clouds. The biggest bummer was that the Stellar Sea Lion rookery we had paddled out to see, on Benjamin Island, was bare. The last time I had visited the rookery they were piled on the rocks and we could hear them from a mile away. I really wanted the boys to be able to witness their giant flubbery bodies, and their belchy-sounding roars, but this isn't the zoo, and sometimes the animals just aren't there. Ho hum. At any rate, we had a good paddle, a nice hike on the island with lots of tide pools to explore, and most importantly we made it back to shore safe and dry. All in all it was a great trip.

Something about eating outdoors makes food taste better, especially when you've earned some calories. So I decided to pack something special for lunch: A Brick Sandwich.

I first heard of this technique for the Brick Sandwich from Martha Stewart's website, and was further inspired by the famed Muffaletta sandwich of New Orleans. It's one of those things I've been wanting to make for years. The idea is to fill a loaf of bread (like ciabatta or focaccia) with a bunch of robust goodies, and then weight it down with a brick for at least 1 hour, and up to 24. The longer the better. All the flavors and juices and aromas marry inside the bread. It does to the sandwich what a night in the refrigerator does to home made spaghetti sauce-- it improves it, dramatically. Once sliced into portions all those zesty layers show themselves off. I didn't happen to have any bricks laying around the house, so mine became a cast-iron skillet sandwich.

Sitting on the beach of Benjamin Island, with a five-pound brick sandwich and a Tupperware full of chewy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, made for a great picnic, and I like to think it helped make up for the absence of our sea lion friends. Here's the version I came up with.

Italian Chicken Brick Sandwich(serves 4-6)

1 rectangular loaf ciabatta bread (or focaccia)
4 to 6 ounces neufchatel or cream cheese
1/2 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained
12 fresh basil leaves
1 cup pitted black olives
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 - 8 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
2 boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves, grilled and sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 tablespoons vinaigrette-style Italian salad dressing
8 ounces thinly sliced salami

1. Using a long, serrated bread knife, slice the ciabatta loaf in half lengthwise (so there's a top and a bottom like a burger bun). Pull out some of the guts of the bread, leaving a 1/2" thick shell. Spread both the top and bottom halves with cream cheese.

2. In a small food processor or blender combine the sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil. Pulse to a fine chop. Spread the mixture onto bottom half of bread. Add the black olives and olive oil to the machine, and pulse to a fine chop. Spread onto top half of bread.

3. Toss the sliced chicken breast with the Italian vinaigrette to coat. Starting from the bottom, layer on the chicken, then the artichoke hearts, the salami, and the provolone. Place the top half of the ciabatta onto the sandwich, and wrap loosely in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator and top with a brick, a cast-iron skillet, or similarly weighted and flat object (you can also use canned food placed in a baking dish). Let sit for at least 1 hour and up to 24. When ready to serve, slice into 2 inch-wide portions and enjoy!

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