My birthday is fast approaching, so I have been scouring through some of my favorite recipes in search of just the right birthday supper. Although I haven’t yet finalized the menu (I haven’t even narrowed down country of origin yet – Mexico, France and Italy are the top three contenders), I did want to take a moment to share a wonderful grilled chicken dish. This chicken can be cooked on the grill (best) or on rainy days, it can be broiled in the oven.
In Italy, especially Rome and Tuscany, this is known as the Devil’s grilled chicken because of the diabolical quantity of crushed black peppercorns used in the dish. (Although some claim it is because of the way the flames lick at the chicken, while others say the name came from the way the wings of the flatten chicken stick up, like the horns of the devil himself). In reality, although the chicken is peppery, its most striking quality is its fragrance, the accumulation of scents from the grill, the pepper and the lemon. The most difficult step in the preparation is that the chicken must be split open and pounded flat. (In Tuscany, the chicken is actually weighted down under two foil-wrapped bricks or pressed beneath a heavy cast iron skillet). Before it is grilled, the chicken must be rubbed with peppercorns and allowed to marinate for at least 2 hours in a combination of lemon juice and olive oil.
The beauty of this dish is that it can be prepared in the morning, placed into a re-sealable plastic bag and brought to the river or park for a picnic. Simply allow the chicken to ferment in the marinade. By the time you have arrived at your destination and prepared a fire, the bird is ready for grilling.
Devil’s Grilled Chicken
3 ½-lb Roasting chicken
1 tablespoons black peppercorns
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
The chicken must be flattened into a shape that will look more like that of a butterfly than a bird. Place the chicken on a work counter with the breast facing down. Using a cleaver, split it open along the entire backbone. Crack the breastbone from behind, spreading the chicken as flat as you can with your hands. Turn it over with its breast facing you. Make cuts where the wings and legs join the body, without detaching them, but for the purpose of spreading them out flat. turn the chicken over, breast facing down again, and pound it as flat as you can, using a meat pounder or the flat side of a cleaver.
Wrap the peppercorns in a towel and crack them with a mallet, meat pounder or a hammer.
Put the chicken in a deep dish, and rub the cracked peppercorns into it, covering as much of it as you can. Pour in the lemon juice and olive oil. Let the chicken steep for 2-3 hours, turning it and basting it from time to time.
If cooking the chicken indoors, preheat the broiler at least 15 minutes in advance. If using charcoal, light it in sufficient time to form a coat of white ash.
Sprinkle the chicken with salt, place in broiler pan, if indoors, or on the grill, if outdoors, with the skin side facing the source of heat. Cook until the skin becomes colored brown, then baste it with a little of the marinade, turn it over and continue to cook. The chicken is done when the thigh feels very tender when prodded with a fork. The cooking times vary considerably, depending on the intensity of the fire and the chicken itself. You should run out of marinade long before the bird is cooked through.
When ready, sprinkle with a little fresh ground black pepper and serve at once. It is not necessary to allow the bird to rest.