Recently I had a conversation with friends who had just been to Italy for the first time and they were telling me how difficult they found ordering food in restaurants because of their lack familiarity with the language. They eventually found a restaurant where they felt comfortable and returned each night to eat various versions of bistecca (steak) – they knew this word.

Pollo can be a young rooster (or cock) or a chicken (or chook) and pollo arrosto is the generic term for a roast chicken. My son Alex, as a teenager would order pollo arrosto each time we ate in a restaurant and all over Italy. He ordered this not necessarily because it was his favourite food, but because he was confused by the choices, and irrespective of what was written on the menu or we discussed beforehand, he blurted out ‘pollo arrosto’.

Interestingly pollo arrosto is not necessarily what many of us recognize as roast chicken; for a start, there are always odori, (smells=herbs as Italians call them), secondly it is likely to be pot roasted or grilled over a fire, or if cooked in the oven it may have a slurp of chicken broth and wine added to keep it moist and be cooked covered for part of the time.

Alex had trouble ordering roast chicken in restaurants in Sicily, in fact I have eaten very little chicken with my Sicilian relatives. If you are sick there is always gallina in brodo (the chicken in broth) or as a pasta sauce made with a young rooster (galletto) cooked in tomato, and if you know someone from Ragusa you may have eaten gallina ripiena in brodo (stuffed chicken in broth) at Christmas.

Here is an unusual recipe for roast chicken reputed to be from Messina, (right, northern corner of Sicily); I found this same recipe in two sources: Anna Pomar’s La Cucina Tradizionale Siciliana and Giuseppe Coria’s Profumi Di Sicilia. Both are sketchy and I have filled in the details.

1.Pre-cook the chicken. Use only enough water to cover the chicken. Add odori (common for broth are celery leaves and a few sprigs of parsley, one carrot and an onion). Add a little salt, bring to the boil  and cook the chicken for 20-30 minutes.
2.Drain the chicken. Cool it so that you can handle it. Save the broth and use elsewhere.
3.Butterfly the chicken: either cut away the chicken’s back bone or cut it along its back, spread the chicken flat (skin side up) and using your hands, press firmly to flatten it.
4.Brush the inside and the outside of the chicken with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and chopped parsley. Make about 1 cup altogether, 1 lemon is sufficient.
5.Place on a hot grill and cook on both sides for 15-20 minutes (a moderate flame). An outside BBQ is perfect as there will be smoke. Keep on brushing the marinade over the chicken while it cooks.
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The recipe above  reminds me of pollo alla diavola, my favourite way to eat chicken when I was a child growing up in Trieste and eating in country restaurants. I have also seen it called pollo al mattone (chicken cooked under a brick).

Use a small chicken (younger and small in size – approx 1 k). It does not need pre-cooking. Once butterflied, marinade it for at least an hour. Alla diavola means ‘as the devil cooks it’, therefore add about 1 teaspoon of ground pepper. Once it is on the grill, to keep the chicken flat by placing a weight on top – a brick or wide frypan with a heavy bottom. The chicken will cook more quickly and evenly.