Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad {recipe} – *Actual* Cooking. While It’s Cooking.

Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken
It shouldn’t be this much work.

“It” being roast chicken, that is. It isn’t something that required much work, advance thought or prep or anything like that.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I suddenly realize I should make dinner. You would think that after thirty *ahem* something years of having to make dinner — ok, I exaggerate, make it 20 years since it’s not like I was making dinner when I was four — this realization wouldn’t “suddenly” happen every day at the same time.

But it does.

At 4 o’clock, I suddenly realize I have to make dinner so I rush out to the market, grab a chicken and whatever other vegetables look good, rush back, wash/dry/truss/salt the chicken, then throw it into the oven.

I don’t have to do anything else for an hour. At least not for the chicken. But I do have to toss a salad together or something.

Thomas Keller’s Simple Roast Chicken is something I can do with no advance planning, no prep, and almost no real “cooking” during the hour that it’s, you know, cooking.
Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken Dinner
And then I decided to try Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken. Thank god I read the recipe in advance.

Zuni Cafe’s chicken requires “prep.” It requires more than just a sprinkle of salt. It requires dermatological procedures on poultry. It requires at least half a roll of paper towels because you have to wash your hands 34 times because you keep touching the chicken then scrolling back through the recipe on your computer because “Really?! I’m supposed to do what at step 4?!” It requires three days advance notice because it dry-brines in the refrigerator for that long. That means you have to know three days in advance that you want to eat it.

If you suddenly realize at 4 o’clock on Monday that you need to make Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken for dinner, you aren’t eating until Thursday night.
Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken
Not only does Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken require advance notice and prep, but it requires effort while it’s cooking,

You actually have to pay attention and do stuff and, you know, cook, while it’s cooking.

Instead of updating twitter and facebook with “…roasting a chicken!”

The horror.

You have to heat the pan. You have to turn the chicken over. Twice. You have to turn over Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken twice in the pan! It doesn’t tell you of course, how to do this.

You have to drain juices, drain drippings, drip juices and juice the drippings back into the pan, into a bowl, swirl it with water and then say three Hail Marys for sinful gluttony that’s about to happen.

Because it happens. The Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken is beyond delicious.

And totally worth this much work.

We made the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken into a meal with our own version of the Bread Salad, as well as a Quinoa Tabbouleh with Cherries.

Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken, breast

Zuni Café Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

I am not sure how the recipe appears in the Zuni Cafe cookbook — whether the ingredients for each component were listed separately, whether the instructions were actually sequential since they can potentially happen simultaneously, etc.

Whatever. I am organizing everything how it worked best for me.

The recipe for the bread salad is the one that goes with the chicken. What we actually made, though, is a version with dried figs and pistachios, and a lot more of the vinaigrette (made with lemon juice) and “seasonings.”

serves 2 to 4


For the Chicken

1 chicken, 2¾- to 3½ pounds
4 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about ½ inch long
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

For the Bread Salad

8 ounces day-old open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough, though)
8 tablespoons mild olive oil
1½ tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants, soaked in 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for ten minutes or so
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
¼ cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
2-4 handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, washed and dried

Roast Chicken Directions

Season the Chicken

when: 1 to 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. 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. 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 Oven and Pan

when: 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving
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. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Roast Chicken

cook time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

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. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size.

Flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Rest 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 pan, 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 you finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad, below).

To 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.

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

Bread Salad Directions

Preheat the broiler.

Remove bottom and most of the top and side crusts from bread. Tear bread into irregular 2- to 3-inch chunks, yielding about 4 cups.

Toss bread pieces with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, lightly coating them, and broil them very briefly, just to lightly color the edges.

Combine about ¼ cup of olive oil with Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about ¼ cup of this vinaigrette with the torn bread in a salad bowl, adding more vinaigrette, salt and pepper as needed.

Sweat garlic and scallions in 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add to bread and toss well. Drain currants and add to bread, then add stock or water and toss again. Put bread salad into a small baking dish and tent with foil. Transfer to oven when chicken gets its last turn.

Tip the bread salad back into the salad bowl. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Season again with salt and pepper if needed.

by Sarah J. Gim on July 26, 2011 · 5 comments

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann July 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Gorgeous. Perfectly roasted.

My favourite dinner. I have been using Judy Roger’s presalting method for a number of years but I use Barbara Kafka’s high heat method to roast.



Sarah J. Gim July 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Ann! I just googled Barbara Kafka’s chicken recipe and your site came up! how wonderful is that?!

I want to try it, but I am a little concerned that I’m going to set off the smoked detectors in my house, too…probably have to call in the big cleaning guns and just have them sanitize the oven first, huh? :)

Thanks for the inspiration, though…definitely DO want to try it!

Dana Zia July 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I do dearly love roast chicken. One of my all time favorite dishes and this looks fabulous. I will have to do the dreaded “planning ahead” and make this.


Heidi Leon Monges July 27, 2011 at 2:40 am

mm, I think I might be willing to eat this chicken next Friday, so I might go out and find a nice chick.


Marcy Timberman March 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Best roast chicken ever. Making it again tonight. Eaten it often at Zuni as along with a Bloody Mary, Caesar salad and espresso granita it’s one of my very favorite meals.


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