The Famous Zuni Bird

I fiddle with recipes some.  Some recipes I fiddle with a lot. But not with the Zuni Roast Chicken.  That one I'm leaving alone.  Not because I don't mess with Judy Rodgers, I'll gladly take liberties with her, but because this recipe is at base about a specific technique for roasting a chicken at home, and it has garnered Judy Rodgers a lot of admirers.  In fact, in an episode on roasting chickens on America's Test Kitchen, Christopher Kimbal actually acknowledges that there is no better method than this one.  If it's good enough for Christopher Kimbal...

According to Rodgers, there are three main necessities for a well roasted chicken:

1. The chicken must be small.  The high fat content in a small (hello, organic/free range!) chicken can withstand the high heat needed to crisp up that skin and keep the moisture inside.
2. The heat must be high.  See above.
3. The bird must be salted at least 24 hours in advance, although it's not going to need extra fat or trussing!

The bread salad is more recipe than method.  But do make sure your bread is day-old so it doesn't absorb too much liquid and become a gloppy mess.

Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad

For the chicken:
One small chicken 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 pounds
4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or anything you want, really)

For the salad:
1 loaf day-old country peasant-style bread, crusts removed (don't use sourdough)
6-8 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 tablespooms Champagne or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried currents (I used raisins)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves, passed through the press
4 scallions, slivered
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water 
A few handfuls of arugula or some other fresh, spicy green.

Season the chicken: about 2 days beforehand (especially for the 3-1/2 pound bird I had) rinse your chicken and pat it very dry, inside and out.  It's really critical to get it dry here so that it roasts properly later on. Slide a finger underneath the skin of each of the breasts and on the thickest section of each of the thighs.  Slide a sprig of thyme into each of these pockets. Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper.  Don't worry too much about seasoning the inside.  Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Brush your bread with a bit of olive oil and then toast it under the broiler, turning once. Tear the bread into irregular sized chunks.  Combein 1/4 cup olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Leave aside just a bit of this vinaigrette to toss on the salad just before serving.  Toss most of the vinaigrette with the chunks of bread, and add more salt if necessary.  Re-hydrate the currents/raisons in the red wine vinegar and the warm water.

Begin roasting chicken

Oven set to 475.  Preheat a shallow pan (I used a 10" oven-proof skillet) over medium heat until a little water flicked on the surface sputters. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan.  The chicken will sizzle, so move it straight into the oven.  Roast for about 30 minutes, then turn the chicken the other way so that the breasts are facing down.  Continue to roast for another 10-20 minutes.  Flip the chicken one more time to re-crisp the breast skin, then remove to a warm plate.  While the chicken is roasting, toast the pine nuts just so they're heated through.

In a small skillet, sweat the garlic and scallions until just tender. Stir constantly to avoid browning. Add them to the bread, along with the strained currents/raisins and the chicken stock or salted water.  Put the bread in a baking dish, tent with foil, and place in the oven with the chicken once the chicken has been flipped for the last time.

Finishing and serving

Take the chicken out of the oven and turn it off.  Let the bread salad rest in the oven to keep warm. Transfer the chicken to a plate and pour off the clear fat from the roasting pan.  Add a little water, about a tablespoon, and swirl it.  Pour any juices that might have accumulated under the chicken into the pan, and bring to a simmer. Be sure to stir and scrape up the pieces that are stuck to the pan. Combine the bread salad with the greens and the bit of held-over vinaigrette.  Then drizzle with the pan juices, toss and serve.


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