Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Almost one year later after my culinary frenzy in San Fransisco I attempted a recipe that I discovered one night out with my cousin at Zuni Cafe. As soon as we sat down at our table and ordered a bottle of wine my cousin put in our order for the Zuni Roast Chicken. It takes 1 hour to make so you have to order it as soon as you get there.
On our way out I saw the Zuni Cafe Cookbook for sale at the bar. I swear it had a glow around it. As I thumbed through it looking for only one recipe, The Zuni Roast Chicken, I found it. That is when I decided this cook book had to be mine.
With my cousin being in town from San Fransisco for this past Thanksgiving I decided to bring Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad from San Fran to So Cal. It came out exactly like Zuni Cafe and all I kept thinking was why did I wait one year to make it. Probably because the recipe in the book is 5 pages long. But don't let that discourage you from making it. Its mostly filled with helpful tips which will perfect this recipe which has minimal ingredients that you might have stored in your pantry. I will try to take the most important parts of the recipe & method for you and simplify it as much as possible but the more you read the recipe the better luck you will have with it.
The bread salad is amazing but optional as the chicken is so versatile and appealing you will want to serve it often accompanied by your favorite side dishes. The first time you make it you have to make the warm bread salad. It's quite decadent and rich and that is the only side dish you will need. Well that and a good bottle of Pinot Noir to wash it down of course.
The Zuni Roast Chicken depends on 3 things, beginning with the size of the bird. I couldn't find birds smaller then 4 pounds and those seem to work great but the smaller you can find the better. I suggest calling your butcher ahead of time to see who has the smallest pasteurized birds.
The second requirement of the method is the high heat used to roast the chicken. Using 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 pound bird will flourish at high heat, roasting fast and evenly, with lots of skin per ounce of meat they are virtually designed to stay succulent. Make sure you get a whole fryer.
The third requirement is salting the bird at least 24 hours in advance but I salted ours 3 days ahead. This improves flavor, keeps it moist and makes it tender. No trussing is necessary as you want the skin to blister and color and no extra fat is needed on the chicken. The skin of the chicken has enough.
The chicken is the method and the bread salad is the more about the recipe. Its a scrappy extramural stuffing, it is a warm mix of crispy, tender, and chewy chunks of bread, a little silvered garlic & scallion, a scatter of currants and toasted pine nuts, and a handful of greens, all moistened with vinaigrette and chicken drippings. That's right...CHICKEN DRIPPINGS!
You have to get chewy peasant-style bread with lots of big and little holes in the crumb. I went to Bread & Cie and bought Ciabatta bread. It was perfect!
You use a half loaf per chicken. Stay clear of sour dough bread as it is way to rich for this recipe.
For 2 to 4 servings
For the Chicken:
One small chicken, 3-3/4 to 3-1/2 pounds
4 tender sprigs of one of the following: fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage, about 1/2 inch long (I used thyme)
Kosher Salt
about 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
For the Salad: Generous 9 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread
suggestion-ciabatta (not sour dough)
6-8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
Salt & freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or as needed
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves, slivered thin
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions) include a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisee, or red mustard greens, washed & dried
Seasoning the chicken: (1 t0 3 days before serving: for 3-1/4 pound chickens at least 2 days)
Removed & discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside & out to avoid the chicken steaming.
Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets and use your finger to loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using a finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
Season the chicken liberally all over with salt & pepper (3/4 teaspoon salt per pound of chicken) Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
Starting the bread salad (up to several hours in advance)
Preheat the broiler
Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil very briefly and crisp and lightly color the surface. Turning once. Trim off any badly charred tips. Cut into bit size wads (2-to-3-inch), you should get about 4 cups.
Combine 1/4 cup of olive oil with Champagne vinegar and salt & pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette with the bread chunks 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 & warm water. Set aside.
Toast the pine nuts in a skillet on the stove. Set aside.
Roasting the chicken and assembling the salad:

Preheat over to 475 degrees. (depending on your oven you may have to adjust the heat to as high as 500 degrees or to as low as 450 degrees) If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance the browning, may reduce overall cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes.
Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger then the chicken, or a 10-inch skillet with a metal handle. Preheat roasting pan in the oven or skillet on the stove. Wipe the chicken dry to prevent sticking and set breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.
Place in the center of the oven and it should sizzle and brown within 20 minutes. If it doesn't raise the temperature until it does. The skin should blister. If the chickens begins to char or fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. After 30 minutes turn the bird over. Roast for another 10-20 minutes, depending on the size, then flip back over to re crisp the breast skin, another 5-10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.
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 with the pine nuts. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of the bread. If its bland, add salt, pepper and or a few drops of vinegar and toss well.
Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil leaving the sides open; set the salad bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven after you remove the chicken from the oven.
Finishing and serving the chicken & bread salad:
Remove the chicken from the oven and put the bread salad in for 15 minutes. Let the chicken cool a bit before serving it. This will make the meat more tender and succulent. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set aside on a plate. Carefully poor the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add the drippings to a saute pan with about a tablespoon of water and place over medium-low heat. Make sure to scrape all the brown bits a stir them to make them soft.
Remove the bread salad and add it to a 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 and add the greens and a drizzle of the 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...and serve.I know you will enjoy every bite and DO NOT wait 1 year to make this recipe. It's to good to do so.

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