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Zuni Cafe roast chicken with bread salad

Judy Rodgers has firm opinions on salt. Well, to be honest (and that's the only way she would have it), Rodgers has firm opinions on many, many things, including such disparate topics as the unthinking use of lemon as an ... Read more

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, plus 1 to 3 days standing time | Serves 2 to 4

Roast chicken

  • 1 (2 3/4 - to 3 1/2 -pound) chicken
  • 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage, about 1/2 -inch long
  • About 2 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
  • About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Step 1Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough -- a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Step 2Approaching 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.

Step 3Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper, allowing about three-fourths teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken. Season the thick 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 for 1 to 3 days.

Step 4When ready to cook, heat the oven to 475 degrees. (Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 degrees or as low as 450 degrees during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly.)

Step 5Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Heat up the pan on the stove over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast-side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Step 6Place the chicken 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. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoky, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over (drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking). Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on its size, then flip back over to re-crisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Step 7When the chicken is done, lift it from the roasting pan and set it 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.

Step 8Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juices into the drippings.

Step 9Set the chicken in a warm spot (which may be your stove top) and leave it to rest while you finish the bread salad. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Step 10Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

Step 11Tilt 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. Taste -- the juices should be extremely flavorful. The pan juices will be used to drizzle over the bread salad.

Bread salad and assembly

  • Generous 1/2 pound slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or as needed
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including 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, carefully washed, dried and torn
  • Spoonful of pan juices from the roast chicken

Step 1Heat the broiler. Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust (reserve the top and side crusts to use as croutons in salads or soups). Brush the bread all over with olive oil.

Step 2Broil the bread chunks very briefly to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread over and crisp the other side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2- to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

Step 3Combine about one-fourth cup (4 tablespoons) of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. In a wide salad bowl, toss about one-fourth cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and taste again.

Step 4Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of warm water. Set aside.

Step 5While the chicken is roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish and place them in the hot oven for a minute or two, just to warm through. Add them to the bowl of bread.

Step 6Place 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 this mixture into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread -- a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If either is bland, add salt, pepper and/or a few drops of red wine vinegar, then toss well. Since the basic character of bread salad depends on the bread you use, these adjustments can be essential.

Step 7Pile the seasoned bread in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the salad bowl aside. Place the bread in the oven after you flip the chicken for the final time. Remove the bread when the chicken is done.

Step 8Tip the bread into the 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. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette and fold well. Taste again.

Step 9Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter and nestle the chicken in the salad.

Note: This recipe is adapted from "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook" by Judy Rodgers. From 1 to 3 days before serving, season the chicken. Begin preparing the bread salad up to several hours before serving.
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