|Serves||2 to 4|
|Total Time||3 days|
The Zuni roast chicken depends on three things, beginning with the small size of the bird. Don’t substitute a jumbo roaster — it will be too lean and won’t tolerate high heat, which is the second requirement of the method. Small chickens, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 pounds, flourish at high heat, roasting quickly and evenly, and, with lots of skin per ounce of meat, they are virtually designed to stay succulent. Your store may not promote this size for roasting, but let them know you’d like it. I used to ask for a whole fryer, but since many people don’t want to cut up their own chickens for frying (or anything else), those smaller birds rarely make it to the display case intact; most are sacrificed to the “parts” market. But it is no secret that a whole fryer makes a great roaster — it’s the size of bird favored for popular spit-roasted chickens to-go. It ought to return to retail cases.
The third requirement is salting the bird at least 24 hours in advance. This improves flavor, keeps it moist, and makes it tender. We don’t bother trussing the chicken — I want as much skin as possible to blister and color. And we don’t rub the chicken with extra fat, trusting its own skin to provide enough. Our brick oven does add a lovely smoky flavor, but it is its tender succulence that really distinguishes this chicken, and this you can achieve at home. I have shared our method with many home cooks, who report the results are startling and delicious when they prepare a chicken this way in their gas or electric ovens. And over the years, I’ve cooked at least a hundred of these preseasoned chickens in a 1940s O’Keefe and Merritt oven at home, roasting variously in a cast-iron frying pan, a tin pie pan, a copper tarte Tatin pan, and a 10-inch All-Clad skillet, with no anxiety, or apologies, and with fine results.
But if the chicken is about method, the bread salad is more about recipe. Sort of a scrappy extramural stuffing, it is a warm mix of crispy, tender, and chewy chunks of bread, a little slivered garlic and scallion, a scatter of currants and pine nuts, and a handful of greens, all moistened with vinaigrette and chicken drippings. Tasting as you make it is obligatory, and fun. I recommend you allow a little extra bread and vinaigrette the first time you make the recipe so you can taste with impunity. For the best texture, use chewy peasant-style bread with lots of big and little holes in the crumb. Such loaves are usually about 1 or 2 pounds, so plan on a half or a quarter loaf, respectively, per chicken. I don’t use sourdough or levain-type bread for this recipe, finding the sour flavor too strong and rich for this dish. And make sure to use day-old bread; fresh bread can make a soggy, doughy salad.
Although everyone seems to love bread salad, it is optional here. The roast chicken is so versatile and appealing you’ll want to serve it often, and with your own favorite side dishes.
|~||One small chicken, 2¾ to 3½ pounds|
|4||tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage, each about ½-inch long|
|~||About ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper|
|~||A little water|
|~||Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)|
|6 to 8||Tbsp. mild-tasting olive oil|
|1½||Tbsp. Champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar|
|~||Salt and freshly cracked black pepper|
|1||Tbsp. dried currants|
|1||tsp. red-wine vinegar, or as needed|
|1||Tbsp. warm water|
|2||Tbsp. pine nuts|
|2 to 3||garlic cloves, slivered|
|¼||cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part|
|2||Tbsp. lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water|
|~||A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried|
Capitalizing on leftovers: Strain and save the drippings you don’t use, as they are delicious tossed with spätzle or egg noodles, or stirred into beans or risotto.
Related article: Judy Rodgers
This content is from the book The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.
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