Grilling with Steven Raichlen: "Project Fire"

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No one knows how to grill like Steven Raichlen! The James Beard Award-Winner and PBS Star stopped by our studio to share a recipe from his latest cookbook, Project Fire. You'll find the recipe for Chicken Breasts Grilled Under A Salt Brick With Mediterranean Salsa below.

You’re invited:

  • Steven Raichlen in Conversation with Liz Crain for Project Fire
  • Tonight at 7:00 (June 6, 2018)
  • Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing
  • 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton

For more information about Steven Raichlen, visit his website.

Chicken Breasts Grilled Under A Salt Brick With Mediterranean Salsa

Yield: Serves 4

Method: Direct grilling under a salt brick Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes for marinating the chicken

Grilling time: 8 minutes

Grill/Gear: Can be grilled over charcoal, wood, or gas.

You also need 2 salt bricks or 1 salt slab (available at barbecue and cookware shops or online from Amazon); heavy-duty grill gloves; and an instant-read thermometer.

Shop: As always, use organic chicken when possible. For a more interesting chicken breast, procure an “airline” cut (a boneless breast with the first joint of the wing attached).

Warning: Do not make this recipe in cold weather. Hot salt bricks have been known to crack or explode when exposed to cold air.

Insider tip: These quick, easy chicken breasts can be grilled over charcoal or gas. But for the ultimate flavor, grill them over wood. It’s easier than you think: Simply fill your chimney with oak, hickory, or other hardwood chunks and light them as you would charcoal. Let the wood burn down to glowing embers and you’re in business.

Pollo al mattone (chicken under a brick) is one of the icons of Italian grilling; its origins are claimed with equal partisanship by Romans and Tuscans, and you find it across Italy. There’s more to the dish than mere showmanship (although that plays a role, too). The brick seems to seal in moisture and helps lay on killer grill marks. Plus, it looks cool, and you should never underestimate the importance of looking cool on the grill. The traditional press is a brick wrapped in aluminum foil. You’re going to up the ante—and the flavor—by using a brick or slab of Himalayan pink salt.


  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, preferably organic (each 6 to 8 ounces)
  • Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper
  • Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary and/or sage
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 Meyer or regular lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
  • Mediterranean Salsa (recipe follows)

1. Trim any sinews or excess fat off the chicken breasts and arrange the meat in a baking dish. Generously season the breasts on both sides with salt, pepper, hot red pepper flakes (if using), rosemary, and garlic. Finely grate lemon zest over the breasts on both sides, then squeeze the lemon juice over them. Drizzle olive oil over the breasts, turning to coat both sides. Marinate the chicken breasts in the refrigerator while you make the Mediterranean Salsa and light the grill.

2. Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.

3. Drain the chicken breasts, then arrange on the grate, all at a 45-degree angle to the bars of the grate. Place the salt bricks atop the chicken, one brick per 2 breasts. Grill the breasts until browned on the outside and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side, rotating each breast a quarter turn after 2 minutes to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks. The internal temperature should be 165F. Check it with an instant-read thermometer—insert the probe through the side. Wear grill gloves to move the hot salt bricks.

4. Transfer the chicken to a platter or plates and serve with the Mediterranean Salsa spooned on top or on the side.

Mediterranean Salsa

Yield: Makes about 2 cups

Think of this as salsa fresca from Mexico channeled by Provence, with olives and capers standing in for the jalapeƱos and fresh basil for cilantro.


  • 2 large ripe red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
  • 2 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3/4 cup finely diced cucumber (preferably English cucumber—see Notes)
  • 6 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon drained small brined capers
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly slivered (see Notes)
  • 3 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper

Place the tomatoes, scallions, cucumber, olives, capers, basil, olive oil, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and gently stir with a rubber spatula to mix. Stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste; the salsa should be highly seasoned. Notes: English cucumber is a seedless variety that comes shrink-wrapped in plastic. If using conventional salad cucumbers, peel and seed before dicing.

The easiest way to sliver basil is to stack 4 or 5 basil leaves on top of one another and roll them into a tight tube from one side. Using a chef’s knife, cut the roll crosswise into the thinnest possible slices. Fluff the slices with your fingers to separate them into shreds.