First Dinner In Our New House: Zuni Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's official - we've moved to Seattle! We're all settled in our new home here, and dogs and kids are happily doing their dog and kid things, while I of course, have been working in the kitchen. I'm beyond excited. First of all, I have a gourmet kitchen with awesome equipment to work with and all the counter and cabinet space I could dream of. Second, it's hard not to be inspired by the nature around me and the views on our property. And third, I've been so sick of eating out!

I made my first meal in our new house our second night here. My good friend Maryn gave me The Zuni Cafe Cookbook for my birthday a few weeks ago, and so I quickly flipped to the chicken section and found what I was looking for: a recipe for roasted chicken.

If I had to choose favorite foods, a good roasted chicken would definitely be top of the list. There is something about that juicy sweet bird that can take on any flavor profile you desire it to, slowly roasting and developing such depth of flavor. It's a perfect crescendo from your nose to mouth as the hour-long process already starts to get you salivating with the insanely good smells permeating through your kitchen as the bird perfects in the oven. Then that first taste - if done properly, it never disappoints.

So I made the recipe from Zuni's book for their roasted chicken and an absolutely UH-MAY-ZING bread salad (panzanella salad) that is to die for. The chicken is wonderful and simple, while the colorful and bittersweet salad offer every single texture you'd want as a sidekick to a perfectly juicy chicken.

The steps are a little involved but it's worth it in the end. Make this for your next family dinner to be the culinary hero.

Zuni Roasted Chicken

1 small chicken, 2 3/4-3 1/2 pounds
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage, about 1/2 inch long
1-3 days before serving:
Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out.
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 an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper, seasoning the thickest 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 otherwise don't worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
To Roast:
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
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. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.
Place in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn't, raise the temperature progressively until it does (depending on your oven, you may have to go up to as far as 500 degrees). The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over. Roast for another 10-20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin another 5-10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.
While the chicken is roasting, prepare the bread salad.
Zuni Bread Salad

generous 8 ounces slightly stale chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6-8 Tbsp mild-tasting olive oil
1.5 Tbsp champagne or white wine vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp dried currants
1 tsp red wine vinegar or as needed
1 Tbsp warm water
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions
2 Tbsp lightly salted chicken stock
a few handfuls of arugula, frisee, or red mustard greens, washed and dried
Preheat the broiler.
Cut the bread into large, bite-sized chunks (remove the crust if you like but I like it kept). Brush or drizzle the bread with olive oil. Broil very briefly to to crisp and lightly color the surface, turning the bread once to brown on all sides.
Combine about 1/4 cup olive oil with the champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this vinaigrette with the toasted bread in a large bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Place the dried currants in a small heat-proof bowl. Pour the warm water and red wine vinegar over them and set aside.
Heat about a tablespoon of the olive oil in a small pan and add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until softened. Don't let them color. Pour onto the bread. Drain the currants and add them in as well. Add some of the chicken stock as well (a splash at a time) if your bread turned out too crispy; no need to add it if your bread is still a little chewy. Add more vinegar if needed. Add a few tablespoons of the pan drippings from the chicken roasting pan. Toss.
Place the entire salad mixture in a large baking dish and tent with foil. Place in oven with the chicken for the final 5 minutes of cooking.
Remove from oven and toss with the greens and toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately with the chicken.
My Notes:
Yes, this is a very complicated recipe. I devised a way to incorporate all the flavors in a much easier way. Roast the chicken as stated and then add the bread directly to the roasting pan with the chicken. This does two things: (1) it's going to toast your bread for the salad, thus eliminating the step of having to dirty a separate pan or baking dish and (2) why let all that gorgeous chicken juice go to waste? especially since you have to use some in the salad anyway! By adding the bread to the pan juices, you're seasoning the bread and soaking up that heavenly taste, while crisping it all at the same one pan. If you do it this way, just make sure use a larger pan when roasting then so you have enough room to add the bread later, and make sure you really move the bread around and let every piece of it soak up and get browned. This means having to turn the bread once during the last 15 minute cooking process. Then when you're done, simply remove the chicken from the roasting pan and on to a cutting board and then spoon out your bread directly into your salad bowl and add the rest of your ingredients for the salad.
Yes you must soak your currants. What this does is basically reconstitute them; it plumps them back up. You're also adding some acidity and flavor by adding the vinegar with the warm water.
No need to rub your chicken with olive oil or butter before roasting. Just make sure your chicken is at room temperature before you place it in the oven and it let the high temperature do its thing to get a nice brown color on it.
You'll be roasting on very high heat. This usually means Smoke Detector Territory. Make sure your fan is on and you've opened a few windows before you start roasting, especially if you have an apartment or small condo.
For even easier clean up (I hate to clean roasting pans), you can use disposable aluminum roasting pans you can find in the baking or cooking section of your local grocery store. They work beautifully. Then just throw them away when you're done! If you prefer to use your roasting pan but find the chicken is burning, another trick I use that I borrowed from Ina Garten is to cut up a very large onion into large chunks and then place on the bottom of the pan, creating a sort of carpet. Not only will the onions act as a sort of barrier between the chicken and the hot pan, but they will also soak up the juices and also offer some flavor to the chicken as well. I always roast my chickens this way, and when I made this recipe I actually tossed in the roasted onions into the salad as well for a sweet and caramelized note that went just beautifully with the other components in the salad.


Maryn said... glad you experienced this recipe!

Mishy said...

I'm totally stoked for this book. I'm hoping to have time tomorrow to visit our insane farmers market in town and bringing the book w/ me to make something awesome sunday night.