Pollo alla diavola, or Devil’s Chicken, is a simple and delicious way to grill chicken.
Begin by butterflying a young chicken: cut away the chicken’s back bone with kitchen shears and spread the chicken flat, skin side up. Cover the chicken with a sheet of waxed paper and, with the bottom of a frying pan, give the chicken a few good whacks to flatten it even more, but without breaking it up.
Place the chicken on a platter and season it generously on both sides with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes. To this, I often add the juice of half a lemon. Let the chicken marinate for about an hour or so.
Heat up your grill and grill the chicken on both sides, over a moderate flame, until nice and golden brown all over, about 15-20 minutes per side. A little charring on the edges is perfectly fine—and even desirable. I find that a grilling basket makes the job very easy and helps keep the chicken flat, but you can simply place the chicken directly on the grill if you prefer, placing a brick or other heavy weight on top to keep the chicken flat.
NOTES: The better the chicken, of course, the better the flavor will be, so an organic, free-range chicken will really make a difference. But the beauty of the marinade is that it will lend flavor even to those bland ‘industrial’ chickens—just up the seasoning to make up for the flavor deficit.
The marinade can include other elements if you like: fresh rosemary leaves, freshly ground black pepper, either in addition to or instead of the red pepper, even Tabasco sauce. The proportions are entirely to taste. I like to add enough pepper to make the dish spicy—that is the defining characteristic of the dish—but not so spicy that it overwhelms the taste of the chicken itself. The longer you marinate, of course, the more intense the flavors will become. I find an hour is quite enough, but you can prepare it several hours ahead and put it in the fridge. You can even skip the marination stage; just dress the chicken and place it on the grill immediately.
If you don’t have a grill or prefer to cook indoors, the chicken can be made al mattone, either in a terracotta cooking vessel specially made for the purpose, or on a griddle or in a heavy skillet or sauté pan, weighed down on top with another skillet or—as the name suggests—with a brick. Why all this trouble to keep the chicken flat, you ask? It ensures that the chicken cooks quickly and evenly, and gets nice and crusty all over.
The name “Devil’s Chicken”, as you may have guessed, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the ‘hot as Hades‘ nature of the dish and, I surmise, the well-charred exterior of the bird.