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Devil's Chicken

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This traditional butterflied grilled chicken from Tuscany uses a fresh herb paste and a lemon-oil baste to turn out the most delicious chicken.

When I first saw this gesticulating bearded Italian cook put his marinated butterflied chickens on a grate over hot embers and then sprinkle them with wine, I really thought this one recipe captured the essence of what makes Italian gastronomy so successful. A few tradition-approved fresh ingredients cooked over smoking embers. Nothing difficult, nothing complex and nothing I couldn't do.

This traditional Tuscan recipe is called Pollo alla diavola, literally Chicken in the Devil's style. There are several traditional recipes under that name in Italy. Most are not as interesting as they just use oil, salt and pepper. Some add red chili flakes to the marinade. In Ischia they baste with white wine. The recipe is called pollo al mattone, literally Brick Chicken when you put a large brick wrapped in tin foil over the chicken to press it against the grate. It isn't necessary if your chicken has been butterflied really flat.

Devil's Chicken
1 chicken, butterflied
5 garlic cloves
1 bunch each of fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, basil and marjoram or oregano
10 dried bay leaves
1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Ideally you should buy a free range corn fed chicken who led a happy life and did not see your grill coming. Clearly it is hard to make good grilled chicken with one of these jail house birds who never saw the light of day and live in a cascade of refuse. But they cost more. I recommend a half chicken per guest so nobody will feel stepped over if they don't get their favorite part. Just take smaller chicken to adjust portion size.

For the herbs I recommend you buy a small bunch of each, or substitute with others if needed. Here I used ail des ours (allium ursinum) and no parsley.

Pound the garlic and herbs in a mortar except for the bay leaves. Add a little olive oil to obtain a smooth paste. Don't be mean on the oil as it will prevent the chicken from drying out.

Butterfly your chicken. This means cutting it lengthwise, emptying whatever was left of the insides and flattening it on a board (photo). Rub the pounded herbs all around the chicken and between the skin and the flesh.

Place the chicken in a freezer bag and leave to marinate in the fridge. Some recipe call for overnight marination, others for 1 hour. With an oil-based marinade the longer the better as your chicken won't disintegrate, but one hour is good enough if you have to make do.

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