Homemade tomato sauce

A tomato. A brick. A chicken.

July 22, 2010 · 23 comments

Maybe you’ve felt gypped lately. I can’t really blame you. I’ve been a bit stingy with the recipes. I wish I could find a quicker way to get these posts up. Each one just takes so much time–and I love doing it– but I can’t seem to find the time to post as much as I want. So, I’ll try and make it up to you with two recipes in one post.

And not just any recipes. First, my go-to homemade tomato sauce with big, fat, sweet heirloom tomatoes. And second, brick chicken. This is the chicken recipe for people who yawn at chicken recipes. Crispy, salty skin, plump juicy meat, and done in 20 minutes. I’m going to make the bold statement and say it’s my favorite way to cook chicken.

I also wanted to take a second to talk about how I come up with my recipes. Most the recipes on my site are original. By original, I mean I don’t cook while looking down at a cookbook. I improvise. A little of this, a lot of that–I take an idea and add to it. It doesn’t always work out. But if it did, then I’d never learn. You have to trust yourself (didn’t Dr. Seuss say that?).  And don’t freak out or get discouraged when your ad-libbed braised pork emerges from the oven looking like a dried-up piece of tree bark. It happens. Figure out what went wrong, and when you fix it, you’ll have a new technique in your arsenal, ready to apply to all sorts of ingredients.

Planning weekly menus isn’t really my thing either. Nor is bringing lengthy shopping lists to the farmers’ market. Things change. I may want to cook vegetable lasagna on Wednesday night, but if I get home late, grilled cheese may be on the menu instead. When I have a special dinner in mind, I’ll shop for it the day-of so I’m sure I’ll have time to cook it. Otherwise, I wing it.

This isn’t to say I don’t have a system. When I shop, I look for staples first. Garlic, onions, potatoes, olive oil, bread, pasta, cheese. Then, I go for the seasonal stuff or things that look especially tasty that week–peaches, nectarines, avocados, tomatoes, greens, squash, herbs, peppers, green beans. And last, I look for meat and fish. This also changes by what’s available at the market. Some days I fully intend on grabbing a big slab of fresh halibut, but when I can’t seem to pull away from the apple/bacon sausage at the Prather Ranch stand, everything changes.

Being impulsive is in my nature, so I guess that’s why this system works for me. I also like knowing that I always have something in the kitchen to cook up a quick meal. But that’s not quite the point. The point is, I know tomato sauce and brick chicken aren’t original ideas. I know they’ve been done a zillion times over. But I also know that I’m not afraid to make them my own. So the next time you read a great recipe, put the book away, and try making it blinding, trusting your instincts to guide you in the right direction.

Sunday Dinner: Fresh Tomato Sauce and Brick Chicken

Tomato Sauce
(makes just enough for 1lb of pasta)
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A few leaves of fresh basil

Set a large pot of water to boil. Gently submerge the tomatoes in the water for about 15 seconds, or until you see the skins start to peel back. Remove tomatoes with the slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat a saucepan on medium-low heat and add two swirls of olive oil. Add onions and slowly cook, being careful not to brown them. When soft (about 10 minutes), add the garlic and put heat on low. Stir. If the onions are sticking to the pan, add a tablespoon of water and continue cooking.

Use your fingers to gently pull skins off of tomatoes. Try to only remove the skins and not the sweet flesh. Next, crush tomatoes with your hands into a large bowl. Why use your hands? Well, because it’s fun. And because if you feel any rough or hard parts of the tomato, just take them out. I don’t bother removing the seeds.

Add tomatoes to your sauce pan and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Add a teaspoon of sea salt, give it a minute, and taste. Add more salt as needed. Same with the black pepper. Add the tablespoon of butter, and after it melts into the sauce, throw in torn basil leaves and take off heat. Serve with one pound of your favorite pasta.

Brick Chicken
2 chicken legs with thighs attached
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Sea salt
Black pepper
Marash pepper (optional)
(isn’t that a ridiculously short list for the best chicken ever?)

Heat up a cast iron dutch oven on medium-high and coat the bottom with a layer of olive oil. While it’s heating up, generously season your chicken all over with salt and pepper and a light sprinkling of marash pepper – and cover a brick with tin foil.

When oil is super hot (but not smoking), add chicken skin side down. Place the brick on top and cook for 15 minutes. Note: You can do this in a cast-iron skillet, but it’ll splatter and make a mess. It’s much neater in a pot with high sides).

After 15 minutes, remove the brick and carefully flip the chicken with tongs. Lower the heat a tad and add the white wine. Cook for 5 more minutes. Use the tongs to plate the chicken, and top with juices from the pot.

Complete the dinner: Garnish pasta with basil and grated pecorino. Have fresh bread for dipping both in the sauce and in the juices from the chicken.

Where I Shopped:
Heirloom tomatoes, garlic, onions: Temescal Farmers’ Market (Happy Boy)
Marash pepper: The Pasta Shop, Oakland
Organic chicken: Star Meats, Berkeley

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Brick Chicken « A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That…
August 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm
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August 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

tizzielilsh July 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I never heard of marash pepper before. I love learning about new spices. I’ve done my gathering for the day so I won’t do your brick chicken tonight but that’s what I’ll be eating tomorrow evening unless something else drifts into my consciousness between now and then. I just took chicken out of the freezer.

And look, you conveniently tell your readers where they can buy marash pepper in my watershed (I live in Berkeley) so I can swing by The Pasta Shop tomorrow.

Thanks, local lemons.

Gosh, I keep thinking I smell that chicken.


tizzielilsh July 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm

I forgot to say this: the photograph of that tomato is absolutely gorgeous.

And the quality of photographs on this blog are consistently great. Thanks.


tizzielish July 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Oops, I mistyped my online name. Tizzielilsh sounds like I’m tipsy but it was just a typo.

It’s tizzielish.


Rainier Wolfcastle July 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Sorry to quibble, but isn’t 1/2 inch of oil a little excessive for chicken al mattone? If your dutch oven is 10 inches in diameter, it would take about 2 1/2 cups of oil to fill it to 1/2 inch. Most recipes I’ve seen call for just coating the pan with oil at most.

For example, here’s a Bon Appetit recipe to cook an entire 4-lb chicken al mattone using only 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan:



Allison Arevalo July 23, 2010 at 8:17 am

You are absolutely right! I just looked at my pot, and there’s no way I put a 1/2 inch of oil in there. I looked at it with the chicken already in the pot, so I think that’s where I got the 1/2 inch from. Thanks for your comment- I’m going to revise the recipe now.


Koek! July 23, 2010 at 12:38 am

Can I just say a big, powerful, resounding ‘YES’ to these dishes? YES, YES, YES!!! I love butter in a tomato sauce (recently made a tomato-butter sauce with spinach gnudi), and that chicken looks devastatingly delicious. Here’s to winging it!


heather @ chiknpastry July 23, 2010 at 7:21 am

looks like two great recipes!

such a great tomato picture -do you take your food outside or are you just graced with a ton of natural light? gorgeous.

i gotta say – i do like to have meals planned, especially with having a CSA membership – i end up with a lot of meat and produce and i refuse to waste it! i definitely wing it too, but sometimes having a recipe and ingredients on hand makes it easier to pull something together fast!


Angela@spinachtiger July 23, 2010 at 11:31 am

I’m not a big chicken fan, but when I want it, I want it with salt pepper and olive oil. I have a few good ways to get there. This is another one that I’m dying to try. And, I like that this is served with pasta. It all looks so savory and satisfying.


Kasey July 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I love your approach to cooking. Like you, I often improvise as I cook, but I love to get inspiration from cookbooks–particularly as my instincts are always spot-on when it comes to flavor combinations (though I sometimes do surprise myself). I have always wanted to make brick chicken–the only thing standing in my way has been finding that brick. :)


Dana July 25, 2010 at 11:19 am

The bricked chicken looks so crispy and tasty. I’m going to have to try out the technique, chicken that good looking prepared that quickly can’t be a bad thing.

What kind of heirlooms did you use in the sauce? A mixture of types, or all the same kind?


Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen July 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Whoa, that chicken does sound rather tasty! I will have to try the brick next time…I agree with your cooking philosophy 100% !


erin July 26, 2010 at 11:57 pm

this is the coolest picture of a tomato i’ve ever seen. seriously.


Nicole July 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

That tomato picture is simply gorgeous! What a wonderful meal. I like to improvise from time to time, but it is very frustrating when dinner does not turn out.


Khadija July 28, 2010 at 11:33 am

That looks utterly delicious and i love chicken :)


The Cilantropist July 29, 2010 at 4:50 pm

That tomato sauce sounds simple and incredible all at once, and I love that you use fresh heirloom tomatoes as the base; and btw, that first photo is really eye-catching. :) Also, I am with you that I look for tons of fresh ingredients, but I also buy staples so that if I am running around busy and still want to eat healthy I know I have at least 1-2 quick dishes I can whip up!


Couscous & Consciousness August 3, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Beautiful photos, and that chicken looks awesome – I think I’d maybe like a bit of lemon and oregano in there as well.
Incidentally, Rainier who doesn’t like to quibble, I can’t see anywhere that it suggests 1/2 an inch of oil, so Allison I think you are off the hook. I think your instructions to “coat the bottom (of the pan) with a layer of olive oil” are exactly right.


Diane August 6, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I hope you’re not trying to get any of the benefits of that olive oil. Heating it to “super hot” results in losing it’s health properties. Olive oil should never be overheated. I wonder what this would taste like w/ coconut oil. Maybe I’ll experiment. Thanks for the recipe. I will try this for sure. Oh, and I’ve never heard of marash pepper before either. Can you find that with regular spices?

I’ve added you to my blogroll and I look forward to going through the rest of your blog. Also, great photos! ;)


Naseer August 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Just found your blog through Google, and I love it! Great pictures to boot!

I just had one question. What is the purpose of the brick in this recipe? Also, how do you remove the brick from the dutch oven while it’s still super hot? This is probably very simple but it seemed like it would be tough.


Allison Arevalo August 16, 2010 at 10:37 am

Hi there! So glad you like my blog! The brick weighs the chicken down and gets the skin extra crispy. It also helps it cook evenly (think of a panini when it’s held down by a press). The brick actually doesn’t get super hot. You can carefully pick it up with your hands or with tongs. You can also cook the chicken in a large skillet instead of a dutch oven, but it splatters quite a bit and would be a little messier.


Diane August 18, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hi…I tried your recipe and it was wonderful. I used skinless chicken breast b/c that was what I had, but I definitely want to try it with skin-on legs to see if it’s even better tasting!

I’ve included your blog link for reference and credit on my blog.

Thanks again,


Elise May 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I loved this chicken….mine looked just like the picture and it was so much fun to make (and super easy). Thanks!


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