Zuni Roast Chicken and Bread Salad
After I reviewed the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, the general consensus was that if I were to only make a single meal from this book (ya right), it had to be the roasted chicken and bread salad. This recipe looks intimidating when you first check it out. I mean, it spans almost five full pages in the cookbook. But as with most things in the kitchen, it isn’t as hard as it looks as long as you read first and know some basic skills.
The idea behind this dish, as far as I can tell, is that the chicken roasts at a high temperature to develop a crispy skin while still be very moist on the inside. The bread salad absorbs all of the drippings from the chicken so each bite is succulent and wonderful. This was my final full chicken:
Ok. I think it is important to note that I’m sure I didn’t do everything perfectly right and I’m sure if Judy made this for you it would be 100 times better than my version, but it was still one of the best roasted chicken dishes I’ve ever had and definitely the best I’ve ever made.
For the chicken:
Start with a small bird. Anything over 3.5 pounds will take too long to cook all the way through. Too much moisture will be lost.
1) Pre-seasoning. Salt the bird at least a day (I did two days) before you intend to cook it.
2) When you get your bird, insert your sprigs of herbs under the skin around the breast and thigh. Just work a small opening between the flesh and skin and make a little cavity. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Then rub salt and pepper all over the bird. Probably about a Tablespoon of kosher salt per pound. Let the chicken chill in the fridge, loosely covered, for at least a day.
3) When ready to cook the chicken, preheat oven to 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit with a cast iron skillet in the oven. No need to truss the bird, but do tuck the wings back.
4) After the oven is heated and ready, add bird to pan, breast-side up. It will sizzle like crazy. Roast for 30 minutes.
5) After 30 minutes, remove bird and carefully flip it so it’s breast-side down now. Return to oven to roast for another 20 minutes.
6) Remove bird and flip one last time, returning to breast side up. Roast for another 15-20 minutes until the bird is cooked through, about 165 degrees in the meatiest part of the thigh.
7) Total roasting time will probably be a bit over an hour. Remove bird after that and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
8) While the chicken roasts you can prepare your bread salad. Cut bread into large chunks and sprinkle with olive oil. Roast or broil these guys until they are crispy. If you have any super-charred pieces, just cut them off.
9) Soak currants in a drizzle of red wine vinegar. Toast pine nuts in a pan over low heat until they are fragrant, just a few minutes. Whisk oil and white wine vinegar together to form a quick vinaigrette.
10) Warm the garlic slivers and scallions in a tablespoon of oil over low heat in a small skillet. They should fry or brown, just warm slightly.
11) Tear your bread into large uneven chunks and add most of your vinaigrette. Toss it and taste and add a pinch of salt and pepper if needed. Add your currents, pine nuts, scallions, and garlic slivers.
12) While your chicken rests, pour off a few tablespoons of the drippings in the pan and pour them over the bread salad.
13) Chop your chicken into breast and thigh portions and nestle the pieces into the bread salad. Serve immediately!
According to Judy, there are three tips to making sure this chicken is wonderful:
1) Start with a small bird. Anything over 3.5 pounds will take too long to cook all the way through. Too much moisture will be lost.
2) Pre-seasoning. Salt the bird at least a day (I did two days) before you intend to cook it.
3) Cook it at a very high heat. Pretty much as hot as your oven will get.
When you get your bird, insert your sprigs of herbs under the skin around the breast and thigh. Just work a small opening between the flesh and skin and make a little cavity. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Then rub salt and pepper all over the bird. Probably about a Tablespoon of salt per pound. Be sure to salt the meatier sections more.
This bird should go back in the fridge for a few days to rest. When you pull it out to cook, it will look really different. The skin will be taunt around the bird and all the salt will be absorbed into the meat.
Meanwhile, cut your bread into large hunks and sprinkle it with a bit of olive oil. Broil these guys for a few minutes until they are crispy. I cut off about half of the crusts on my bread before broiling and if there are any super-charred pieces, snap them off also.
Now it is time to start the chicken. There are a bunch of ways you could cook this bird. In a roasting pan or a cast iron skillet are the easiest. I used a cast iron skillet. Preheat your oven to 450-500 degrees and get your skillet very hot. No need to truss the bird, but tuck the wings behind the neck.
Put your chicken breast-side up on the skillet and in the oven. It will SIZZLE.
This should cook for about 30 minutes. If at 20 minutes, the skin isn’t blistering, raise the heat a bit. If you see any charred bits, lower it a bit.
Meanwhile you can prep the following pieces of the salad:
From the top left and clockwise: Soak the currants in the red wine vinegar for a few minutes; Drizzle the olive oil into the white wine vinegar and whisk until it forms a vinaigrette. Should be pretty quick; Toast the pine nuts in a pan or in the oven next to the chicken for just a few minutes. Watch it, they can go from perfect to burned in about 15 seconds; and warm the scallions and garlic slivers in a Tablespoon of oil. They shouldn’t brown, but just get soft.
Once all that is done, it will probably be time to take your chicken out and flip it!
Next, tear your bread pieces into large, uneven chunks and add most of your vinaigrette. Toss and taste. Toss and taste. The bread will be dressed unevenly and that is cool. It will work out in the end. You can also toss in your currants, pine nuts, scallions, and garlic.
The real key with this bread salad is tasting chunks of the bread to make sure it is salty enough and seasoned enough. Adjust with more vinaigrette or salt and pepper.
After 15 or 20 minutes more in the oven, take the bird out and flip it one more time. So it finishes breast side up!
Then cook for another 5 or 10 minutes. Total roasting time is around one hour for a 3 pound bird. This is the final product!
This guy will need to rest for at least 10 minutes before you can cut it. Meanwhile, take the drippings that are left in the pan and drizzle a few tablespoons of them over the bread salad. Lots of flavor there.
Then you can chop up your chicken. It should pretty much fall apart.
When you pull your chicken out, transfer your salad to a dish that is oven safe, and stick it in the oven. Turn off the oven. This will warm the salad just enough.
Pull it out after your chicken is chopped, toss with your greens, and then nestle your chicken pieces in the bread salad. DEVOUR!
It may seem like a lot of steps, but it really isn’t that hard. I liked the bread salad a lot although I would choose a different green next time. Betsy didn’t like the salad that much. Hands down, the chicken was amazing though. If anything, definitely try the chicken. It is fantastic and simple.
Also, pick up a copy of the Zuni Cookbook or ask for it for your birthday or something. It is a veritable bible.