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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.

Prepare a fire with hardwood or quality charcoal. Here I used 5-years dry apple wood. Wait until the wood has turned into embers and a small layer of white ashes covers it. But don't wait too long, you need real heat otherwise your chicken will take too long too cook and will dry. Put your chicken on the cooking grate skin up.

In a small bowl, whisk the juice of one lemon with an equal amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and prepare a flameproof brush.

After about 10 minutes or when it has marked properly, baste with the lemon-oil mixture and turn.

Leave to cook until done - about 30 minutes in total. I recommend you get a temperature probe to check for doneness. Baste regularly. I cooked some onions directly over the embers as you see above. More on that in a later article.

When the chicken is almost done, sprinkle a few bay leaves or rosemary over the embers and let burn. This will generate a most fragrant smoke that will infuse the meat. Very pleasant!

Baste some more. Some local variations on this recipe call for sprinkling with white wine while still on the grill. I will try it next time as a slightly acid baste works wonders with this dish.

Let your chicken rest, wrapped in foil, for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve each guest a half chicken and they will be as happy as the devil in hell.

I found this recipe in several Italian book, the best being Il Cucchiaio d'Argento : secondi piatti, an untranslated sequel of The Silver Spoon. There is also an excellent recipe in A Cook's Tour of Italy.

This recipe was included in Weekend Herb Blogging #11



  • #1
  • Comment by Steamy Kitchen
Beautiful photography! Organic chicken was on sale all week at the supermarket - I was running out of chicken recipes so this is perfect.
  • #2
  • Comment by Kalyn
Very nice photos.  I think this sounds like an interesting way to cook chicken.  I especially like the idea of putting some bay leaves or rosemary on the fire at the end for extra flavor.  Never heard of that before.
  • #3
  • Comment by KirkSter
I have stumbled on your website and I think that it is amazing! very well explained and of course nice yummy pictures ;)Will try to make the devils chicken during this weekend, if it taste as good as it looks you will find another post here for sure. Take care and keep up the good cooking!
  • #4
  • Comment by David Kelsall
Marvellous. Not only are the recipes fantastic, but the scripting is actually error-free and intelligent! A joy to read. The pictures are magnificent; the photographer should be heartily applauded. It's 9am here, and I'm about to go out and buy the ingredients for this chicken dish (not to mention a few eggs to try in the oven for 300mins) ...
  • #5
  • Comment by KirkSter
yumm yumm yumm... that was very delicious. I put on some Jalapeno-Sauce as well. Great recipe!
  • #6
  • Comment by Linda Adams
I was image searching for a wall treatment job I am doing to a kitchen (going to draw leaves in a plaster coating between lower and upper cabinets) and because of the grape leaf wrapped quail - found this site! Marvelous!  Never know what you will find in an image search!  Will try some of your tantalizing recipes - Love the wonderful instructions.  Thank you -
  • #7
  • Comment by Gerry Brown
I can't wait to try this... The next good day we have between now and spring (I'm in Virginia) I'm breaking the grill out and trying this... It looks wonderful and I'm sure the taste is the same.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Gerry I hope you get to try this recipe, but be wary of not letting the chicken dry out on the grid and make sure you don't allow flare-ups to burn it! Good luck.
  • #9
  • Comment by Michael
Goodness, this wasn't the recipe to look at on the day I skipped lunch! I'm going to have to try this one very, very soon. Another excellent article with beautiful photos.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Michael I'm sorry if the Devil in my chicken reminded you of your fondness for the Sin of Gluttony! Good luck if you try the recipe!
  • #11
  • Comment by Flug Dubai
AWESOME!!! I decided to first eat and then to post my comment and here it is: Perfect recipe, perfect disription, and the taste was just amazing! And the name is awesome, too :D
  • #12
  • Comment by treeman
recipe is great as a variation i used the herb stems and made a smoke pouch out of foil and also used pecan wood. it came out perfect.
  • #13
  • Comment by Milano Richard
Wonderful recipe!!! I have a cast iron grill that i use in my Camino, ( Fireplace) Here in Milan... I usually make something very similar. I also tried your Tandoori recipe.. and it was AMAZING!!! Quick question...can i brine the chicken before i marinate it.. or should i just add some white wine and leave it overnight in the fridge? I dont like chicken too dry.. and frequently the chicken is dry if not brined..any thoughts. I also must agree that this is so far the best cooking site on the net.. your sense of humour is wonderful and fun! Thanks much. Salute!
  • FX's answer→ Richard, thanks for your kind words! I've never tried to brine chicken but it should work, some people place a brick on the chicken while it grills, maybe that might help too.

This recipe is phenomenal.  I made it last summer, and now the grill has come out and I'm returning to it tomorrow night. Can't wait.
  • FX's answer→ Great to hear that! Did you manage to keep the chicken not too dry?

  • #17
  • Comment by Derek
I just prepped this and put it in the fridge for dinner tomorrow. The comments have me wondering if I should risk going overboard and add some more moisture/salt. I did use alot of oil (almost a quarter of a cup), and i did use a tbsp of coarse salt in the herb mash--to help crush since i improvised my m&p. oh, and i splashed in some white wine, there was an open bottle around already!

however, the chicken looks as badass as your pictures proclaim it to be. i think i'm going to do a photo comparison on my own blog. your site has been a huge inspiration to me, and i can't wait to see your new material.
  • #18
  • Comment by derek
I'm sorry, i forgot to ask what you'd recommend alongside this dish?
  • #19
  • Comment by Imanol
Es un verdadero placer encontrar estas recetas, son sabores antes habituales, y ahora difíciles de poder degustar.Las fotos son preciosas, son de las que alimentan.
  • #20
  • Comment by pradeep lama
its soooooooo..... good recipe i want to make is this thanks.
  • #21
  • Comment by luis
How can i make this spicy with someswet kick ,
chile guajillo, cayennne , som tipe of adobo?
  • FX's answer→ Luis, you can use some chipotles adobados in the marinade perhaps?

  • #23
  • Comment by alex esqueda
congratulations i was looking for a place like this to learn more about recipies the pictures are great and the chicken looks delicioso  thanx
  • #24
  • Comment by Haik
Dear FX
It is a fantastic dish as all your other recomendations that I tried. now I am thinking about preparing it for a group of friends. I am thinking to serve it with potatoes cooked inside the the embers. Almost the same way you do it with your onions. It would complete the rustic feel.  What do you think?
I couldn't find a latter article that what you did with the cooked onions. Will you please share it as I might include in the menu.
thank you,
P.S. The dessert will be your Swiss Apple Roesti :)
  • FX's answer→ Haik, sounds like a great plan! Not sure which article had the onions but all you need is place them directly on the embers and remove when soft. Just make sure not to eat any embers. A picture is here http://www.flickr.com/photos/21159363@N02/2061894620/
    Have fun!

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