I’m pruning back my green, almost chartreuse, lavender [Lavandula virens]. Seen here is a flower of the green lavender with a typical blue lavender color. I’m cutting as far back on wood with some buds still visible. These prunings don’t go to the compost pile. They go to the grill to cook chicken in a way you probably haven’t imagined. As described in my book The Lavender Garden, here is the recipe for a spice/herb you’ll never find at even the farmer’s market:
Chicken "Pressada" with Green Lavender
"Pressada" is the my coined American/Italian term for chicken pressed between two layers of herbs. This adaptation is based on a dish made with thyme which I enjoyed in Italy while traveling south of Naples. The recipe cooks chicken very quickly and infuses an intense lavender flavor throughout the meat as the oils of the lavender “steam” the chicken. The act of cooking Chicken Pressada is more theatrical than any other barbecue method I know, and is a great way to impress your friends. This is a true gardener’s recipe because few non-gardeners could afford to buy the amount of fresh lavender it calls for.
Serves 6 to 8.
Barbecue pit or grill.
A medium-sized bag of briquettes.
Fire-starter paper, wooden kindling and matches.
A 10-by-20-inch cast-iron pancake griddle.
A cookie sheet as big or bigger than the griddle.
Five to 10 bricks.
Two pairs of long barbecue tongs.
Cooking oil (olive oil works fine) and a natural-hair pastry brush.
A serving platter with garnish.
6 to 8 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, or other boneless cuts.
A five-gallon bucket loosely filled with lavender foliage and flower-stalks.
Without the grill on, light enough charcoal briquettes to form a layer one or two briquettes thick beneath the entire surface of your griddle. Use newspaper and kindling to start the fire so the petrol taste of lighter fluid is eliminated. After the coals have white edges, put the grill on and the griddle on top of the grill. Make sure the griddle is directly above--less than one-half inch--the hot charcoal.
Harvest the lavender while the coals are heating the griddle. Trim more foliage than flowers, as the leaf adds more flavor. (You can use this as a chance to trim back plants to a more compact form.) Woody stems are not a problem, but younger, more succulent growth will release more fragrance.
Remove the skin from the chicken (if not already deskinned). Rinse chicken parts thoroughly under cold running water and pat dry.
Once the flames are out and the briquettes are glowing white at the edges, rearrange the coals in a layer beneath the griddle. When the griddle becomes nearly orange hot, and a drop of oil dropped on the grill will dance and sizzle, you're ready to begin.
Cooking the Chicken
Quickly coat the griddle with the olive oil. This is to keep the herbs from sticking and to make it easier to clean the griddle. Don't use a brush with plastic bristles as the intensely heated metal will melt the bristles.
Quickly layer up to two inches of lavender prunings on the griddle with the stems all running in one direction. Be sure to cover the griddle thoroughly with the lavender and leave no holes.
Quickly lay the boneless chicken breasts across the top of the lavender, with the lengths of the pieces perpendicular to the lengths of lavender.
Quickly cover the chicken thoroughly with another two inches of lavender foliage. Put the cookie sheet on top of the chicken-and-lavender "sandwich." Stack the bricks evenly on top of the cookie sheet to compress the lavender and chicken together (the “pressada” part).
Because the heat supercharges the volatile oils in the lavender, the steam and oil mixture quickly cooks the chicken. If the griddle was nearly orange-hot, the chicken may only need five to ten minutes per side (it may take fifteen to twenty minutes per side if the charcoal wasn’t hot enough).
After the proper time (which you’ll learn in short order by practicing), remove the bricks and the cookie sheet and use the tongs to turn the entire "sandwich" over as quickly as possible (applause is permitted). The lavender and chicken will usually hold together enough to allow you to turn it as a unified whole. You'll either amaze your friends or have to reassemble the lavender-and-chicken sandwich while eating humble pie. Practice make perfect.
After the proper length of time on the second side, remove the bricks and cookie sheet. Remove the top layer of the lavender, lift the chicken off the bottom layer of foliage and place on a platter.
Remove the lavender and the griddle from the grill. Quickly restoke the coals to a hot temperature and place the chicken breasts on the grill diagonal to the line of the metal . Brown briefly. Turn the chicken to create a brown cross-hatching. Repeat on the other side.
Serve the browned chicken on a rice pilaf or a bed of colorful mesclun salad greens.
While eating, you can add the leftover lavender foliage to the coals to produce a hazy romantic atmosphere infused with a heady smoky-lavender fragrance. Or, use the leftover lavender to grill pork chops, turkey drumsticks, turkey breasts, salmon, hot dogs (don’t waste these on the kids), tuna, or sausages for use during the coming week.
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