Tuscan Chicken

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There are several versions of this delicious and simple roasted chicken. In Italy, it is often called "Chicken, Devil's Style" or  "Pollo Alla Diavola", particularly when it is roasted over very hot coals,  and when hot red peppers are used to spice the olive oil.

The basic technique is to split the chicken down its breastbone, and grill it over hot coals, or in a skillet, weighted down with a brick. The recipe below is for the skillet method, followed by a  variation, which will describe the grill method, in which the chicken is pounded flat, so no brick is used. Either way, this is an easy and delicious recipe, resulting in a crispy-skinned, juicy chicken.

one chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds
3 large cloves, garlic - chopped fine, or very thinly sliced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon, dried thyme)
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 c. olive oil - divided use
OPTIONAL: 3 small hot red peppers, seeded
juice of one lemon
salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
additional lemons - cut into wedges for serving alongside

Trim the second joint from the chicken wings (discard, or save for future use). Cut the chicken through the center of the breastbone, and spread it open to “butterfly” it. Turn the chicken cut side down on your work surface, and press firmly with the heels of your hands, particularly on the backbone and the joints of the thighs and legs, to flatten the chicken.

In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, thyme and lemon zest. Starting at the tail, very gently separate the skin from the chicken by sliding your fingers underneath the skin. Spread the garlic/thyme/lemon mixture under the skin, as evenly as possible, to cover the meat of the chicken.

In a small skillet, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil gently with the red peppers (if using) until the peppers have browned. Allow the olive oil to cool, then remove and discard the peppers. [If you are not using the red peppers, simply omit this step entirely.]

Add the juice of the lemon to the cooled olive oil, add a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper, stirring to blend. Pour this mixture over the prepared chicken, turning to coat the chicken well, and set aside for two hours at room temperature – or refrigerate overnight.

To cook the chicken, heat the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil in a skillet until it just begins to ripple. Pat the chicken with paper towels to dry it, then season the chicken generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the chicken, skin side down in the hot oil. Place another heavy pan or flat lid on top of the chicken (select a pan or lid that is just slightly smaller than the skillet) and set a clean brick (you may wrap the brick in foil, if desired) on top of the pan or lid, to weight it down.

Cook the chicken over medium heat for 30 minutes. Using a spatula, loosen the sides of the chicken, if they have stuck to the skillet, and gently lift the chicken to check the color of the skin. If it is not a deep, rich brown, continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so.

When the skin side is browned, using a spatula or tongs, gently turn the chicken and continue cooking it on the other side for 8 to10 minutes (no need to weight it down on the second side) or until the thigh juices run clear and the meat springs back when touched (165 degrees if measured in the deepest part of the thigh with an instant-read thermometer).

Remove the chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces. Serve with lemon wedges.

Variations:

Pound the cut chicken very well with a meat pounder (a flat one - no points - to tear the meat) until the chicken is as flattened as possible (so it will cook evenly).

Marinate as described above, then season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper, and place the marinated chicken skin side down, over very hot coals. Turn the chicken and baste with marinade several times until chicken is cooked throughout and has a dark brown crust (some spots may be almost charred). Remove the finished chicken from the grill and allow chicken to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces. Serve with lemon wedges.