Zuni-Inspired Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad. Part I.

zuniroastchicken0_121408Am I the only foodie schlep with a backlog of recipes-in-waiting a mile long, with such a short attention span that I casually hit smittenkitchen.com one day and suddenly the weekend’s dinner plans are out the window in favor of the shiny new object waving before me?

I just couldn’t resist this recipe. I had never heard of Zuni Cafe or bread salad before (I know, where have I been? The owner/chef even wrote a cookbook. News to me. The restaurant, okay, I’ve never been to SanFran, but the book? How that one escaped my attention, I’ll never know.) The combination of Part I (the chicken) and Part II (the bread salad – details in the next post) is a stunning, stunning dish. So delicious, so scrumptious, I’m still thinking about it days later. (And I’ll tell you up front that I cheated on both halves of the recipe – still turned out great (that’s why I called it Zuni-inspired – for the full-blown thang, you’ll have to buy the book). I can only imagine what the authentic Zuni dish must be like…).

This is not a meal that you wake up one morning and decide to serve for dinner that evening. For one thing, the chicken has to be prepped ahead of time. Up to 2 days ahead of time, depending on the size of the bird. This is the kind of dish that you plan mid-week for a weekend dinner party with in-laws and bosses and clients and frenemies – people you need to impress. People you want to one-up. (Take that, ha HA!) People you want in your debt for even inviting them to such an amazing dinner.

Not that it takes so much hands-on time to prepare (the roasted chicken, at least), but because the recipe’s creator insists that the overnight (at the minimum an overnight) salting of the bird is the secret to its silky, fall-off-the-bone texture. I’m not one to argue. The results spoke for themselves. This recipe represented a huge roasted chicken departure for me. I’m used to seasoning the thing like there’s no tomorrow (garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, thyme, gray sea salt, peppercorns, chocolate, vanilla extract) (just kidding about the last two) and stuffing what are sometimes the oddest things into the chicken’s privates (a lemon – whodda thunk?), followed by an agonizingly slow roasting – 4-5 hours – at a low temp. Zuni’s blitzkrieg roasting at 475 degrees is practically revolutionary to me (bordering on broiling, I thought, but the results are ever so much better). Less than an hour, with the barest of seasonings, and the chicken is perfect: delicately crispy on the outside; suhmooth and flavorful on the inside.

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So, how did I cheat, you might be wondering? First, I really didn’t do an overnight salting. This is a case of do as I say and not as I do. The chicken still turned out fabulous, but, the overnight thing really does make a difference, no matter how you’re seasoning or roasting your bird. Second, I didn’t use a whole chicken; I used a split chicken sans giblets. I could not find a whole chicken under 4 lbs where I was shopping, and as I really didn’t feel like going on the hunt that day (to another store; not, like, into the coop with weapons), I went with the split chicken. And finally, I didn’t do all the hokey-pokey with the drippings. Not that that’s really cheating – I just didn’t need them for anything (other than a spoonful or so for the Bread Salad).

The key to this process is really the bird. Choose the best quality meat you can, and keep it small. 3-1/2 lbs is really the upper limit of what will allow this process to shine.

Zuni-Inspired Roasted Chicken
SmittenKitchen.com’s version, who oh-so-kindly adapted from the cookbook what is a comprehensive discussion of the prep and roasting of the chicken
  1 small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 pounds
  4 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long (SoupAddict’s note: I used both rosemary and thyme, because I love the flavors so much.)
  3/4 teaspoon salt
  3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
      A little water

Season the chicken: [1 to 3 days before serving; give a 3 1/4 to 3 1/2-pound chicken 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.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. 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.

Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2-pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan 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.

Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. 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. You can let it rest while your finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad).The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Serve the chicken: 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.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread on the warm platter (on top of the Bread Salad, if using).


Comments

  1. You are most definitely NOT the only one with the list of recipes to try, which only gets longer with each passing day. I’ve tried not looking at anything new until those recipes are tried, but it simply doesn’t work!

  2. This sounds soo good! We will be having this very soon. Add to my list of recipes to make!!

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