very cloud has a silver lining. Just ask Icelandic chef Fridgeir Eiriksson. When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, Eiriksson worked around air travel disruptions to woo two paying customers to an open-air barbecue in plain view of the local fireworks.
Using lava to grill, he cooked up soup, flaming lobster, monkfish and shallots, while his customers relaxed and watch the spectacle. Price? About $1,000 for two. “If someone says that something is impossible,” Eiriksson told a news agency, “I feel the urge to try it.”
Barbequing in Italy doesn’t mean going to Etna or waiting around for sleepy Vesuvius. Thanks to globalization, central Italy finally offers quality grills at reasonable prices.
There are three main steps: choosing between charcoal or gas, picking the size of the grill in relation to available space, and the design choice, bearing in mind that price depends on the grill’s options.
Leroy Merlin, Italy’s most well-known DIY chain store (the company is French), offers a wide selection of grills. There are six outlets in the Rome area (nine in Milan and one in Florence).
You can also find functional, inexpensive gas grills at your local hardware store or supermarket. My own supermarket model has a lava-cast porcelain cooking bed and ran €65.
Unlike a century ago, when only local coal merchants sold charcoal, supermarkets and hardware stores generally stock three or five-kilogram bags. Meanwhile, gas cylinders come in five or 10-kilo canisters and are available in hardware or camping supply stores.
Barbequing itself has international appeal. Consider Indonesian “satay,” Middle Eastern “kebab,” Japanese “yakitori,” Argentine carne dell’asado, Brazilian churrasco, Jamaican jerky food, or just plain old American barbecue. It’s no coincidence that the word barbecue comes from the Spanish barbacoa, a Caribbean term for a wood grid attached to tree trunks under which a fire was lit to grill assorted meats.
In Rome, when you talk about barbecue, you just say alla brace, which literally means “on the embers.” For Italians, what characterizes this cooking isn’t the tool used for grilling or a barbecue, but the ingredients (meat, fish, shellfish or vegetables) and the recipe (marinade or sauce added at the end, made from basic ingredients). It then becomes a question of finding a place where you can light up wood or coal.
Sardinia has “Porceddu,” “pig in the ground.” The cook wraps a suckling pig in myrtle leaves and cooks it in a specially-dug ditch filled with pre-heated coals. You can’t match the dish’s unique taste just by putting pig on a spit and basting it with sauce.
Unless you live next door to a supermarket that stocks global foods (unlikely), you’re not apt to find your favorite BBQ sauce (as in Mesquite, A1, Hunt’s, etc.). While ketchup, mustard, and relish are available, hot dog and hamburgers buns are harder to find — though barbecue mania has pushed some supermarkets to stock them.
On Rome’s plus side is the meat. You can get excellent ground beef from the neighborhood butcher (macellaio) and sausage cuts from the local salumiere. Every neighborhood has an “er meglio,” or, “the best,” in each category. As for bread, bun-wise you can use rosette, which vaguely resemble American buns, or just make do with pane casareccio, homemade bread.
If you live in an apartment with a terrace, balcony or a garden, you’re in business. You can pick up a disposable barbecue at a hardware stores, or, if you feel inventive, you can play Iceland chef and assemble your own grilling system (please avoid burning down your apartment complex). If you want to eat out, Rome has plenty of restaurants that focus on grilled foods (alla griglia; see below). These dishes, meat and fish, usually have their own category on a menu. Most pizzerias have grills near their ovens.
Now then, down to business. This month’s recipe is Pollo alla Diavola, or “Devil’s Chicken.” It’s not clear if the devil was in the peppers, which are essential to the recipe, or the flames licking the meat itself. In some rural areas, rabbit or other game is substituted for the chicken.
Ingredients:: 1 chicken (1 kg).
Preparation (for the marinade):
- Mix 15-20 cl extra virgin olive oil, salt, rosemary, cayenne pepper powder, a pinch of paprika, a freshly chopped chili, a crushed clove of garlic (with skin), a whole lemon and its zest. Marinate the chicken for at least five hours. Overnight is even better.
- Take the chicken, trim along the back and clean out the innards. Flatten well, kneading it with a meat hammer. Cut off and discard the legs and neck. Remove any remaining feathers. Wash and dry. Then rub the chicken with salt and the marinade.
- Place the chicken on the grill or on a porcelain plate (depending which kind of grill you have). Grill the chicken with the crushed part downward, and press it down with a lid or a similar weight. From time to time, rotate the chicken and baste it with more marinade. Do this at least four or five times until the chicken is cooked.
- When the chicken’s done depends on its thickness, the consistency of the meat, and the kind of grill (porcelain plate grills take longer but give you a more uniform result, while coals are faster but take more time to cook under the skin). Consider that an average 1-kilo chicken should take about 30-40 minutes.
- Once the chicken is browned and cooked, serve immediately. (You might want to add vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant and pepper, sliced into large pieces and grilled on skewers. Or you can also prepare bruschetta, slices of homemade bread toasted on the grill and flavored with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.)
I recommend serving the meal with a Merlot-based red wine (Veneto, Friuli or Trentino Alto Adige), such as a Merlot delle Venezie.
Here are three of my favorite Rome grill spots: