Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Promise Kept

Don't give up on me. I've been busy, busy, busy, working twenty-six days in a row and - very unexpectedly for me - somewhere in the middle of that twenty-six days, I ended up spending a night in the emergency room.

Things seem to be pretty much back to normal, and I'm here to make good o
n my promise to tell you about how I fared with the Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad.

A few years ago I read an Amanda Hesser column in which she said her sister-in-law-(to be), Timmie, had given her six of her favorite recipes for Christmas - a wonderful way to welcome someone into your family and a great present anytime. This was shortly after Amanda Hesser had written a different article saying that although she cooked often, she hadn't yet developed a repertoire.

Well, I have.

And as much as I like to try new thing
s, I have a basic repertory of recipes. Of course, it's changed over time. I used to make something that my friends call Vic's Chicken, which I don't make at all anymore (but they still do). And I am always happy to try my hand at a new dish. But for the most part, there are things I cook that people are happy to eat on a regular basis so I cook them over and over. And since I add new recipes to that list sparingly, it's been a bit of a surprise to find a lot of the dishes I've cooked from Zuni so far have instantly made it into my repertoire.

Before I started this project, I had already adopted the Zuni method for making chicken stock as my own. But the Pasta alla Carbonara, the Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes (please make these right away), the Chocolate Pots de Crème, and the Roasted Applesauce, which you haven't heard about yet, are now mine too. And in spite of actually having a repertoire, I've never had a dish that I find myself making once a week. Without fail.

Until now.

Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad
Poultry, Page 342

In life-before-Zuni, I already had a way of roasting chic
ken. And it was good. In fact it was VERY good. And I did read Carol's post about roast chicken, which looks wonderful and is very tempting. But once I made this dish - at EB's insistence - I was a goner. Not only is it a once-a-week dish, it might be morphing into what I eat on most Saturday nights. Adding the bread salad is not necessary in terms of having a lovely roast chicken dinner, but it is delicious and such a perfect accompaniment to the bird that I've been making it a lot too.

Judy Rodgers says that "the Zuni roast chicken depends on three things," (which I had already figured out on my own) - small birds, high heat, and salting the bird twenty-four hours in advance.

Two other things I already had in common with Judy Rodgers when it comes to roasting chickens - the chicken is not trussed nor is it rubbed with oil or butter before cooking. We were in accord so far. I do not, however, have a wonderful wood-burning oven to cook my chickens in, although - I swear this is true - I have a book on how one is built in case I win Mega. (Have you ever seen a picture of Alice Water's home kitchen?)

The one caveat about this recipe is that in addition to salting the chicken twenty-four hours in advance, the bread salad is made with day-old country - not sourdough - bread so you do need to plan to make it the day before you're going to cook and eat it.

The Chicken

I generally buy a D'Artagnon chicken - the smallest one in the batch, and that's what I got this time.

I removed the giblets.

I washed and dried the chicken. The chicken should be totally dry before it's cooked so it won't steam. I sprinkled kosher salt liberally all over the chicken and rubbed it in. Judy Rodgers additionally sprinkles a little salt inside the cavity, but I don't usually do this. She also seasons the chicken with pepper at this point, but I do not. There are some exceptions (for instance Shrimp Creole), but I very rarely add pepper at any time except right before serving.

I removed the lump of fat inside the chicken to discard.

At this point I put the chicken on a rack on a plate upside down to sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning I turned the chicken over on the rack right side up.

I put the chicken back in the refrigerator, and left it there until an hour before I planned to roast it at the end of the day. By then the chicken was all dried out, ensuring a crisp, crisp skin, which is, after all, one of the best things about roast chicken. (If this rack thing, which is my suggestion, not Judy Rodgers', sounds like a pain - and it really isn't - remember, the difference between a good cook and a great cook is attention to the small details.)

I slid a finger under the skin of the breast to carefully - without tearing the skin because it protects the meat underneath - make two little pockets.

I did the same with the thickest part of each thigh.

I inserted sprigs of rosemary into the pockets. I have been using rosemary because I have a pot of it outside the kitchen door. (But Carol, you can use thyme, marjoram, or sage instead. I'm going to try marjoram next time because I love it with chicken - much better than oregano, in my opinion.)

I heated the oven to 500 degrees because it's fueled by propane and runs 25 degrees cooler than the knob says. (This is why you need a thermometer in the oven so you know the real temperature.)

I used a 10-inch black iron skillet to roast the chicken in. It's easy to preheat, and the little chicken just snugs into it perfectly.

I put the chicken breast side up in a pan that had been preheated on top of the stove over medium heat. Before heating, I put a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of oil in the pan and rubbed it around with a paper towel before adding the chicken. The very dry chicken went into the heated pan breast side and sizzled at contact.

The skillet containing the chicken was put into the oven. It started to color within 20 minutes. After a total of 30 minutes I took the chicken out of the oven to turn it over, breast side down.

Once I turned the chicken over in the pan (it did not stick since it was dry when it went into the hot pan), I put it back in the oven to cook for about 15 more minutes. Then I turned it right side up again and cooked it until it was done, about 20 more minutes, for a total of an hour. Count on its taking 45 minutes to an hour depending on your oven, the size of the bird, and how well-done you actually want it.

The Bread Salad

While the chicken was cooking, I took a country loaf and carved off the crusts.

I did the next step backwards. I "toasted" (really broiled)
the bread in a toaster oven and after it was golden and crisp, I brushed it all over with olive oil (instead of brushing it with olive oil before broiling).

I tore the bread into uneven pieces, put the pieces in a bowl, dressed the pieces lightly with a tart vinaigrette, and added a little Maldon salt.

I plumped currants in a little red wine vinegar and warm water.

I toasted pine nuts in a small skillet on top of the stove.

I cooked garlic and scallions until they were soft but not colored in a small amount of olive oil.

I added the cooked garlic and scallions and the drained plumped currants, along with a little chicken stock, to the pieces of bread. It didn't need any additional vinegar.

The salad was tented with foil and placed into the oven the last time I flipped the chicken. After the chicken was cooked and removed from the oven, the bread remained in the oven for another 5 minutes.

The chicken was removed from the skillet; the fat was removed from the pan, leaving the drippings behind. A tablespoon of water was added to the pan and swirled around. The skin between the thighs and breasts were slashed, and the juices were tipped into the skillet. The chicken was set on top of the stove - a warm place - to rest and become "more succulent." The remaining juices that collected from under the chicken went into the skillet.

The salad was removed from the oven. Some pan juices
were drizzled over and tossed with the salad, the greens were added with a little more vinaigrette and pepper, and tossed again.

The legs, thighs, and wings were cut from the chicken with kitchen shears and served nestled in the bread salad. (The breast meat was saved for chicken salad the next day.) This meal was as delicious as it looks.

Some bounty from the garden.

Taken on Sunday night right before heading back to the City.

And, of course, Sylvano, who, as you can see, likes The Zuni Cafe Cookbook as much as I do.

A Home Cook's Notes

When I remove the giblets from the chicken, I put the neck into a freezer bag where I collect them to use the next time I make chicken stock. I save the liver, and the lucky person who is hanging around drinking a glass of wine while I finish up dinner, gets to eat the liver which has been sauteed and sprinkled with a little salt, pepper, and paprika.


hanne said...

That chicken looks divine! I just got my cookbooks back out from the boxes they were piled in, and I made a beeline for the Zuni book (actually, my hands moved faster than my brain, even--I was surprised to find I was holding it!) I tried the roasted marinated beets the other night and remembered why I love the book and thought, "Yes, 'Cooking Zuni' is a brilliant project."

EB said...

Yayyyy! I'm so glad you loved it. This is honestly the one dish I am begged repeatedly to make. It's all about the panzanella AND the chicken. Two halves, one whole. So divine.

Kisses to Sylvano!

maggie said...

So helpful to see the photos step by step; for some reason I am so intimidated by Zuni Chicken.

One question—and maybe she addresses this in the book—but do you ever worry about the uncovered chicken taking on weird odors/etc in the fridge? I suppose a superclean fridge would fix this...

Really looking forward to reading your blog as you continue! What a great project.

Victoria said...

Thanks, Hanne. It is great. You must try it.

EB, I did love it; I do love it. Just perfect.

Maggie, Actually Judy Rodgers says to cover the bird loosely before you refrigerate it. I just don't bother covering it and have never had a problem. The chicken has never taken on an odor from anything else; and I always make sure the chicken smells fresh before I start messing with it so it never makes anything else in the refrigerator acquire an odor. I usually get the D'Artagnon chickens at Fairway uptown. The price is good, and they move quickly.

purpleflowers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
purpleflowers said...

The recipes look delicious! I love the idea of giving favorite recipes to a family member and/or friend as a token of sharing. It is very heartwarming.

La Traductora said...

Loved your step-by-step instructions on roasting chicken. It looks moist and just flavorful. Gracias!

Bad Home Cook said...

Now why didn't I see this post before my disasterous roast chicken attempt for Rosh Hashana? Step-by-step instructions are valuable! Just discovered your blog, and have every intention of coming back early and often. Thanks!

jennyah said...

perhaps it is time for a new post? it has been about a month....

Anonymous said...

Two months have passed with nothing posted; is all okay?

Stace and Rob said...

Zuni chicken rocks! My husband has been making it over a year and it is the best ever! I discovered your blog by accident tonight, what a great surprise to see this post! thanks!

foodhoe said...

ooh, just stumbled over here, I love the concept! I have the cookbook and have made the chicken, which I love so much but since I work in SF and am lazy, going into Zuni for that chicken is a guilty pleasure of mine... but I loved the photos and and reading about some of the other recipes. An inspiration!