Bert Greene's Kitchen

Devilish Dishes That Cure the Blands

May 08, 1986|Bert Greene | Greene is a New York-based food columnist

As a man with an ambivalent palate, I must confess that almost all my kitchen life has been sharply divided between angelic and devilish dishes. And the zingier offerings, more often than not, have won every culinary contest. I simply love hot food.

It is a taste acquired rather than inherited; family fare when I was growing up was remarkably bland. My first-generation American parents eschewed any Middle-European food allegiances for mild dishes. Salt was the only condiment (aside from a bottle of catsup) ever allowed on the table. And no racy seasonings, such as garlic or pepper, ever contaminated the menu. At least until I took over the cooking chores.

Gamut of Spicy Foods

A whole gamut of spicy foods showed up on the family table, and untried seasonings took over the family cupboard. Cayenne pepper, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chili and curry powders and mustard became components of almost every meal I cooked. I used these stinging adjuncts with such gusto that even my sister and mother, whose palates were a good deal more sophisticated than my father's, begged for surcease.

"Stop using that pepper shaker," My mother cried out in dismay after one particularly incendiary stew. "You're beginning to cook like the very devil."

Which, while not wholly accurate, did give me some continuity with centuries of other cooks--pious and pacific folk who seasoned their food flagrantly to keep the uncurbed satanic forces at bay.

Association to Underworld

The term deviled stems from the Greek diabolos , which means someone or something with a close association to the underworld. All through the long history of human eating habits, the victual that has been named "deviled this or deviled that" was always highly flavored for purely prophylactic reasons: to burn the notion of deviltry from the diners' tongues.

Not me. I consume hot foods for pure pleasure.

Deviled foods are justly famous for their heat and bite. They should be offered without apology or cavil at the table. Two favorites follow that are only mildly incendiary and easy to prepare.

Dubbed Poulet Diable (Chicken Devil) this recipe is considered a classic of Provincial French cuisine. My version, somewhat free-form and Americanized with chili powder, ought to win the dish new friends. CHICKEN DIABLE

1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut up

1 clove garlic, bruised

1 large shallot, minced

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon chopped basil or tarragon

Dash hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups bread crumbs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Rub chicken pieces well with garlic.

Combine shallot, mustard, chili powder, basil, hot pepper sauce and olive oil in bowl. Mix well. Brush some of sauce over chicken. Let stand 1 hour. Cover and reserve remaining sauce.

Bake chicken at 350 degrees 20 minutes per side, basting with more sauce during turning. Transfer chicken, skin side down, to lightly greased broiler tray. Brush chicken with half of remaining sauce. Press bread crumbs into top and sides of pieces. Drizzle with half of butter. Broil 5 minutes. Turn chicken pieces over, brush with remaining sauce. Press bread crumbs over top and drizzle with remaining butter. Broil 5 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

In Italy, a la diavolo means deviled, or more precisely, in the devil-style, which is an apt description of any grilled crustacean. Particularly if the fiery sauce is dabbed rather than sloshed over the victuals, as in this elegant shrimp dish. SHRIMP DIAVOLO

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Juice of 1 lemon

Dash hot pepper sauce

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup vodka

16 large shrimp, unshelled, split and deveined


2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Combine shallots, garlic, mustard, oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, pepper, wine and vodka in large bowl. Mix well. Stir in shrimp. Let stand covered 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove shrimp from marinade and transfer to broiling tray.

Transfer marinade to small saucepan. Slowly heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture reduces by half, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Meanwhile, broil shrimp until crisp. About 4 minutes per side. Place shrimp in serving dish. Pour sauce over shrimp. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

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