This chicken has been on my to-do list for years. It’s legendary, like the beef cheek ravioli at Babbo or the Loch Ness Monster. The Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken. Now, I’ve never been to Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, but I do read blogs—lots of them—and I read food mags—all of them—and a couple of years back, this chicken was EVERYwhere. So why did it take me so long? Honestly, I’m not sure…other, more striking recipes got in the way I guess. This plain ol’ chicken didn’t stand a chance.
Admittedly, this chicken is a little more fussy than some. It requires a watchful eye and a perky nose. It requires pre-salting and, therefore, preplanning. It requires three mid-cooking turns of the scalding hot bird, utilizing deft hands and splatter-resistant skin. It is not the traditional place-in-oven-and-ignore-for-an-hour Sunday chicken. But in the end, it really doesn’t take much work and it’s totally worth it.
Apparently, at Zuni Cafe this chicken is served with a bread salad. Warm, toasted bread, tossed with pine nuts, currants, lightly cooked garlic and scallions, sprinkled with vinaigrette and doused with chicken juices….how could that be bad? Let me reiterate. Bread doused in chicken juices. Right. You got me.
Honestly, as fussy as this recipe is, if I hadn’t also been making 3 other simultaneous recipes, it would have been no big thang. Just a little flipping of the bird and toasting of some bread. With kind of amazing results. The skin? Totally crispy. The legs? So so juicy. The breasts? NOT DRY! Totally moist (oh, you don’t like that word? sorry, it’s true). The bread salad is delicious and interesting, but honestly, next time I may just go with a good tomato salad; tomatoes drenched in chicken juices are delicious too. Truthfully I don’t cook that many whole birds, but I’m definitely planning on using this technique when I do. Ultimately, this was just more proof that the best things are worth waiting for (Dream Guy, I’m talking to you).
Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad
Adapted from Zuni Cafe via the Today Show. Serves 2-4.
This recipe is a DOOZY. I’ve simplified it below. If you want the full, crazy-pants directions, follow the link above. Otherwise, these directions will get you to the same place.
One small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 lbs
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
Salt (3/4 t per lb of chicken)
1 t freshly cracked black pepper
One to three days before you plan to eat, prepare the chicken:
- Remove the lump of fat from inside the chicken. Rinse and pat dry, inside and out (the drier the better)
- Slide a finger under the skin over each breast and on the thickest part of each thigh, creating four pockets. Stuff a sprig of herb in each pocket
- Rub with all the salt and pepper, cover with foil and refrigerate
- Heat oven to 475°F. Heat a small, flame proof roasting pan or 10″ all-metal skillet over medium heat until quite hot (I used a cast iron skillet)
- Dry the bird and place it breast side-up in the hot skillet (sizzle!)
- Place the skillet in the oven and roast ~30 minutes. Watch and smell the bird-if it hasn’t started to brown after 20 minutes, turn the heat up 25 degrees. If, on the other hand, it begins to burn or smoke, turn the oven down 25 degrees
- Flip the bird over and roast 10-20 more minutes, depending on the size of the bird
- Turn over again and roast 5 more minutes to crisp skin
- Remove chicken from oven and remove to a plate
- Tilt skillet and pour off fat, reserving juices, if you can. Place over medium heat and add a little water, scraping up the browned bits. Add any juices from the chicken that have collected on the platter and simmer. These are the juices that you’ll pour on the bread salad (below). [Note: I initially had trouble telling the difference between the fat and juices, so I poured it all off and added water to the drippings, scraping up the brown bits….it was delicious anyways]
- Serve over Bread Salad
Generous 8 oz slightly stale, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 T mild-tasting olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
1 T dried currants (I used cranberries)
1 t red wine vinegar, or as needed
1 T warm water
2 T pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
4 scallions, sliced
2 T lightly salted Chicken Stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens
- Cut the bread into several large hunks and remove bottom crust and most of top and side crusts. Brush with olive oil
- Place under the broiler and cook until just browned. Flip over and brown the other side. Rip into ragged chunks and place in large bowl
- Whisk together 1/2 c olive oil and white wine vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle 1/4 cup of vinaigrette over toasted bread and toss. Taste a more saturated piece; add salt and pepper if it’s bland
- Place currants in small bowl with red wine vinegar and warm water to plump
- In a small skillet over medium heat, saute garlic and scallions with 2 T olive oil until just soft, but not browned
- Add to bread along with drained currants and pine nuts and toss
- Drizzle with chicken stock or salted water and taste again. Bland? add salt and pepper
- Place in a 8×8″ pyrex dish (or something of similar size) and cover with foil. Place in hot (350 degree) oven for ~10 minutes, until warmed through. If you’re making this at the same time as the chicken, put the bread salad in the oven when you flip the chicken for the last time and leave it in for 5 minutes after you remove the bird
- Return salad to bowl, add the greens and drizzle with a spoonful or two of chicken juices (see above!) and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Taste and season to taste with salt, pepper, more chicken juice or more vinegar/vinaigrette
- Pour onto a platter, top with chicken and serve