Grilled Spatchcocked Chicken with Green Sauce (Pollo alla Brace con Salsa Verde)
Grilled chicken is a staple in many Italian homes and restaurants. It is not only a nice alternative to roast chicken but allows you to cook a whole chicken in half the time.
Typically, I dress the chicken with salsa verde or Salsa Salmorigano, which I use for most grilled meats and fish. I like to keep salsa verde ingredients to a minimum, and use only fresh flat leaf parsley. However, the ingredients used in this sauce vary all over Italy. The only consistent characteristic is that it is green. In Sicily and Calabria I have had versions with a touch of chilli, but you may also come across eggs, mustard and myriad green herbs and leaves in the mix. On one memorable occasion I even had a version that contained brains. Prepared Leopoldo Bolomini, an Italian chef who worked in the Ritz hotel in London, his version, he told me, was very typical in the borderlands between Lombardy and Piedmont.
The key to a successful sauce is to use a sharp knife rather than a food processor. A mezzaluna is the perfect implement.
- 1 medium-large spatchcocked chicken
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp Trapani sea salt
- For the salsa verde:
- 1 large bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, ideally grown outdoors in a hot country; it should be full flavoured with fairly large leaves
- 4 Nola or Cetara anchovy fillets
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp capers
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- freshly ground black pepper
- 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
To spatchcock a chicken, place it on a board breast side down, with the legs towards you. Using poultry shears or a strong pair of scissors, cut right along the backbone and through the ribs on either side of the parson's nose. Lift out the backbone, open out the chicken and tum it over. Now press down with the heel of your hand so that the meat is all one thickness. Insert two skewers diagonally through the breast and thigh meat to secure the legs and keep the bird flat.
Coat the chicken with the olive oil, sprinkle with the sea salt, then allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
The meat can be cooked on a barbecue, under a grill or in a griddle pan, so preheat as necessary. Cook the chicken, skin-side down first, for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the bird, then repeat on the other side. When it is ready, you should be able to easily pull it apart with your hands into 4-6 pieces.
While the chicken is cooking, make the salsa verde. Cut off and discard three-quarters of the parsley stalks. Place the remaining parsley on a wooden board and chop it using a mezzaluna. The texture (rough or fine) is up to you, depending how you like your salsa verde. I opt for a rough chop if it's going to accompany roast or grilled chicken or fish, but I prefer an almost paste-like version for serving with bollito misto.
Add the anchovy fillets, garlic and salt to the parsley and continue chopping until they are combined.
For a loose, rough-textured salsa, put the chopped ingredients into a large bowl, add some pepper and pour in the oil slowly whilst stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The finished salsa should look like very wet chopped parsley with specks of anchovy and garlic still being visible.
For a paste-like consistency, put the parsley mixture into a marble mortar, add the chopped capers and vinegar, and pound together, using a light circular movement of the pestle against the sides. When the parsley drips bright green liquid, add the pepper and a thin layer of olive oil, and mix very lightly. Keep drizzling in the oil and pounding until you have used all the oil and achieved a paste-like consistency.
Both versions are best prepared just before you plan to eat. I do not recommend keeping it in the fridge. Instead, make as much as you need and eat it all.
Place the chicken pieces in a serving dish and dress it with the salsa.