Zuni Cafe's Roast Chicken

This is the best chicken recipe EVERRR...EVER...this has to be the best chicken I've ever made!! All I can say is numnumnumnumnum. Did I mention it was num? OMG, you MUST try this recipe. It actually tastes just like the restaurants. I would even say it tastes BETTER then the restaurants b/c I actually made this and it was GOOOOD!!! You should definetely make this for anyone you're trying to impress...they'll love you and think you're the best cook ever...especially if you're cooking for someone of the opposite sex.

Thank you to the Zuni peeps for giving us common folk this recipe. I think the secret really is salting the chicken ahead and making sure it is completely patted dry when you salt it and when it goes in the oven. I used a little over a 4 pound chicken and used 4, 3/4teaspoons...yes FOUR, 3/4 teaspoons...of salt and salted it two days ahead. It's crucial to use sea salt b/c it's not as potent as regualr kosher salt. Don't be afraid to use as much salt as the recipe calls for b/c in the end it does not taste salty at all. I was shocked to see how much salt the recipe calls for but it gives the chicken so much extra flavor. It is so nummmmmmmm. The lobster and brother's clan all agreed as they kept shoveling more and more pieces of chicken in their mouths. My brother ate so much he did not leave very much for the poor lobster :( I'll just have to make him another one...if he's good.

Anyway, I made a few changes to the recipe and added some notes below. As I mentioned, I was cooking for myself, the lobster, and my brother's clan so there was a total of five of us. I bought a little over a four pound chicken and as you can tell, that was not enough chicken. I forgot how much men and a growing 10-year old can eat. The changes I made to the recipe are as follows: I didn't get any currants b/c the recipe called for such a small amount that I couldn't be bothered. I also forgot to buy the arugula and pinenuts too...teehee...but I didn't miss it one bit. The recipe gets a little confusing with flipping the bird over, then flipping it back, then flippin' it and ya lah ya lah ya lah...so I just put it in breast side up until it was finished cooking. Don't get scared when the grease and fat starts to snap, crackle and pop that just means nummmm.

The bread salad is also DELISH!!! I had to add more chicken stock to deglaze the pan b/c I accidentally threw out all the liquid from the pan after I removed the chicken. I then put all the juices from the pan over the bread along with the remaining vinaigrette and added some more S&P to taste. Please don't be intimidated by how long the recipe is b/c it is soooooo worth it. I served this with some roasted corn in their husks at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Roasting the corn in their husks makes the corn unbelieveably sweet. You won't even need any butter or S&P. Nummmm Nummm.

Update: I have made this three times now and spending a little extra dough on the chicken goes a long way. Buying an organic + free range chicken gave the best results for flavor...which was highly noticeable when compared to a regular chicken and an organic chicken bought at the grocery store. When I spoke with the butcher at the farmer's market, he told me an organic, free range chicken will yield the best flavor, but when that is not an option and you must choose between an organic or free range chicken, choose the free range chicken b/c it will have more flavor.

Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad - 2 to 4 servings
adapted from here

For the chicken
One small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
About 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

For the salad
Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or as needed
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted Chicken Stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried

Seasoning the chicken (Can be done 1 to 3 days before serving; for 3-1/4- to 3-1/2-pound chickens, at least 2 days)

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough-a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove and herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets. (This part sounded a little confusing so I shoved a one inch rosemary sprig into the two corner ends of the breast near the wing. Flipped the bird over and put 2, 2-inch rosemary sprigs underneath the skin closest to the legs)

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper (we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken) Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Starting the bread salad (Can be done up to several hours in advance)

Preheat the broiler.

Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Reserve the top and side crusts to use as croutons in salads or soups. (I placed all the bread in a 9x13 baking dish and only used one dish for the entire salad) Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil very briefly, to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2- to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits, and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside. (STOP HERE IF MAKING AHEAD)

Roasting the chicken and assembling the salad

Preheat the oven to 475. Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven, and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 or as low as 450 during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly. If that proves to be the case, begin at that temperature the next time you roast a chicken. If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance browning, and may reduce overall cooking by 5 to 10 minutes.

Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat and spray with PAM. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle. (For those of you who are like me and had to look it up, breast side up is when the little guys legs are pointed in the air) Then stick an instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. When it reads 165 it is done. (Update: For some reason the last time I made this my chicken, the breasts were still raw even though the instant thermometer read 165 when inserted in the thigh. Now when I make this, I insert the thermometer into the breast and wait till it reads 165, which I find works best)

Place in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.

While the chicken is roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish and set in the hot oven for a minute or two, just to warm though. Add them to the bowl of bread.

Place a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread-a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well. Since the basic character of the bread salad depends on the bread you use, these adjustments can be essential.

Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the empty salad bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time.

Finishing and serving the chicken and bread salad

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes of so.

Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.

Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest while you finish the bread salad. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste-the juices will be extremely flavorful.

Tip the bread salad into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter, and nestle the chicken in the salad.

Capitalizing on leftovers: Strain and save the drippings you don’t use, they are delicious tossed with spätzle or egg noodles, or stirred into beans or risotto. You can also use them, plus leftover scraps of roast chicken, for the chicken salad which follows