Saturday, September 22, 2007


Pollo alla Diavola

This is an after the fact entry commemorating the last dinner my angelheart Eric and I cooked before I returned to New Zealand this week after a two month trip to the US. Goodbyes are always heartbreaking, hellish even - each one saltier than the last. Recalling this Umbrian chicken preparation, though, vaunts the sweeter moments of the time with my angelheart Eric over the sadder ones.

This year's September issue of Food & Wine magazine is all about Italy. Broken up by region, there are articles aplenty waxing lyrical on food, wine and travel. This is an incredible primer on the regions of Italy for the page-flipping public of short attention span (and some days that includes me). Amongst the many dog-ear-mark-worthy articles, my angelheart Eric and I were intrigued by Nancy Harmon Jenkins' piece on contemporary trattorias.

Trattorias are to Italy are what bistros are to Paris. They are the heart and soul of a town, a continuation of lineage. With a firm hand on tradition, trattorias offer comfort food. In some parts of Italy, particularly Umbria, the area with which Harmon Jenkins in concerned, there is a rebirth of trattorias that provide sophisticated and modern twists on traditional fare.

In an effort to understand the relationship between ingredients better, I gravitate towards recipes that appear simple. That is to say, ingredients are pared down and the method is assumed to bring out the best in the chosen protein or vegetable. When my angelheart Eric pointed out the dish, not only was I keen to try another version of spatch-cocked chicken (that is to say, a whole chicken flattened once its backbone has been removed, which cuts down on cooking time), but I was also intrigued by the notion of a Pollo alla Diavola that didn't only rely on dried red peppers and black pepper as its seasoning condimento. My interest was also piqued by what Salvatore Denaro (the regional human subject of the quiet culinary movement) was substituting to amp up the flavour: a rosemary-spiked acidic marinade.

Salvatore Denaro's twist to Umbrian delights is the integration of flavours from the grand Italian islands of Sardignia and Sicily. In the following recipe, Ms. Harmon Jenkins replaces Salvatore Denaro's powder of Sicilian myrtle and Turkish Bay Leaf for dried sage. I have to say that I am not the biggest fan of sage, finding it very astringent (which, I know, is rich coming from he who loves juniper berries), but I was game nonetheless. The only change I made was to keep the quantity of ingredients for one chicken as opposed to two, for Eric and I wanted maximum flavour, knowing sometimes that magazine writers sometimes offer conservative amounts of seasonings for mass appeal. Just bear in mind that you will need to start two days in advance for maximum flavour (it shouldn't be difficult as the only advanced preparation requires that you combine a liquid and a dried herb).

Pollo alla Diavola
(closely following Nancy Harmon Jenkins' adaptation of Salvatore Denaro's recipe in Food & Wine, September 2007)

1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 3-3 1/4 pound (1 1/2-1 3/4kg) whole chicken
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or 1 teaspoon piment d'Espelette or Aleppo pepper)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1) In a bowl or small jar, combine white wine and dried oregano. Cover and leave at room temperature for two days.
2) Strain into a bowl and stir in the olive oil.
3) Remove the wing tips and backbone from the chicken with either poultry shears or a chef's knife.
4) Skin-side up on a baking sheet lined with aluminium foil, press down on the breastbone quite firmly to flatten the chicken.
5) Score the chicken to the bone with the tip of a chef's knife.
6) Drizzle over the chicken all but two tablespoons of the olive oil marinade. Rub into the flesh. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
7) In a small bowl, combine the sage, salt, pepper, rosemary and black pepper. Rub all over the chicken. Feel free to use a pastry brush to pick up any spilled-over liquid. Get it into every crevice.
8) Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to meld.
9) Preheat oven to 220 C/425 F.
10) Roast chicken skin-side up in upper third of the oven until done, which is when it registers 75 C/165 F at the thickest part of the chicken, approximately 45 minutes. Baste with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil half-way through the roasting procedure.
11) Preheat broiler.
12) Pour pan juices into a small saucepan and keep warm over a low heat.
13) Broil chicken 10cm/4" from the heat, rotating the pan until brown and crisp, approximately 3 minutes.
14) Carve chicken, pour warm pan juices over it and serve.

My inveterate skill as a failed food stylist aside, this is an incredibly tasty chicken. In fact, it doesn't bop you over with head. I find that the inclusion of wine actually creates a deeply savoury marinade, which is potentially akin to the result of Chef Denaro's myrtle and bay leaf condimento. Served with a creamy avocado and cherry tomato salad, this is a substantial Summer dish that doesn't require much fiddling about in a warm kitchen. Most importantly, the flavours are sophisticated and the chicken is tender and flavourful on either side of the bone.
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Yes! This sounds like a perfect way for me to return to "chicken-eating" :) I haven´t been feeling like chicken for a looong time but you make this particular seasoning sound so good!
Sorry for you having to part from your Eric. Again.

Shaun, when the dish is this good, food styling is not necessary. I can tell how moist and delicious this chicken dish is and your pic says it's tasty.

Hope you and Angel heart are not apart for a long time.
Hi Shaun, what a coincedence, when I pulled up your post today you are speaking about the Sept. issue of F&W and I did my post on the same today. I did the pasta and ragu recipe. Now I am heading back into my magazine pile and check out the article you are speaking of! This chicken looks delicious! On my list to try!
Hi Shaun,
The September issue sounds good to me. I have a short attention span these days. I can't seem to even read a "real" book these days.

Your chicken looks and sounds delicious. I've not tried to remove the back-bone of a chicken, I'll have to google images of how to do that. Avocado and cherry tomato salad sounds like a wonderful accompaniment.

p/s: goodbyes never gets easier with practice.
MMM, the chicken looks really good. I've been eating pasta for a week now, maybe it's time for a change. The chicken and the crabcakes (from the prev. entry) looks divine! =) mmm, i want crabcakes now. =)
Hope you are not apart too long this time.

I like this sort of Italian marinaded chicken, I do one with apricots and herbs, it's full on flavour wise, and something we crave now and then.

How was the sage? I'm not keen on it either, probably the only herb I don't like. I tend to replace it with rosemary. Although I do try it now and again to see if I can manage it yet!
Chin up, dear boy. This was a last dinner, not the Last Supper. The sting of parting will mellow with time, engaging diversions, and hunkering down with the last of your studies.

I'm not a huge sage fan, either, although I did buy it fresh for a specific recipe this week. It is also an essential ingredient in Bell's Seasoning, a U.S. herb mix of long history, wildly popular at Thanksgiving for flavoring the turkey stuffing.

Sage and rosemary are such taste tigers on their own. Who was the victor? Spotched chicken, is a great way to prepare fowl. I'll send you a link for Tabaka, a Georgian recipe I made several seasons ago.
Looks like a winning recipe Shaun! I hope you and Eric get to share another delicious meal together soon...
Vonsachsen - So nice to see you back! Yes, this is a nice, flavourful recipe to hopefully welcome you back to the world of good, succulent chicken. Thanks for your kinds words re: being apart; hopefully this will be the last time in our lives that we have to be apart from each other for so long.

Cynthia - You are a kind woman. This dish is simple but flavourful, no wonder so many have a version of it. Indeed, the chicken was juicy and tender.

Winedeb - This has to be one of the best Food and Wine magazine issues in a while - not to say that they are usually terrible, of course, but this one is especially well-written and covers a lot of good territory. I'm going to check out your post and corresponding article in the magazine!

Nora B. - I wonder if you and I are in the same boat...thesis-writing short-circuits the attention span. I find that when not embedded in political notions of liminality and the representation of national identity, I'm just too tired to focus on something else. At least with reading recipes, the pay-off is quicker than reading novels, which I do miss reading, incidentally, and have tried to do so again, though it now takes me forever and a day to get through one. Removing the backbone is a breeze. You can either use poultry shears or a chef's knife, and it is as simple as removing the bone, for there is nothing else to get in the way.

Victoria - OMG, the crab cakes were heavenly, but I ate so many that week that I'm not sure when I can face having them again. Perhaps having demystified them (I had never seen them on menus here before, but in this day of continued fusion cooking and globalisation, I'm sure it won't be long) ruined the hunger I used to have for them? The chicken is a breeze to make. And you can use leftovers the next day in a salad.

Kelly-Jane - The sage is tempered by the vinegar in the marinade, so it is not at all overpowering, but its camphoric notes add an element of the meadows, dining al fresco, to the meal. It is perfect, actually, so it is no wonder that it hasn't been changed out of the recipe for decades. Your apricot and herb chicken sounds great...I will check your blog to see if you have already posted it; otherwise, I hope you soon do an entry on it.

Susan, lovie - Trust you to call a spade a spade (not the Last Supper), but your humorous perspective cheers me up. When I went to my friend Suzanne's Thanksgiving dinner last year, I was afraid she would put sage in her stuffing. Well, maybe I was more apprehensive than afraid because I knew that well-used it could be successful, as in the Italian brown butter and sage sauce used to coat ravioli filled with pumpkin or butternut squash.

Anyway, the sage and rosemary were really well-tempered and didn't try to fight with each other. I'm pretty certain that in the sage's sake it has something to do with the vinegar. As for the rosemary, it slapped about with olive oil, an harmonious combination.

Thanks for the interesting (and, I'm sure, deceptively simple) Tabaka recipe. I have a few Georgian recipes now...I'll have to have a Georgian feast to celebrate the conclusion of my thesis.

Bruno - Yes, this is a great way to have chicken any day of the week. If making it mid-week some forethought will be necessary for the marinade, but that only takes a jiffy.
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