Recipe : Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken with Bread Salad

by Ginny on May 25, 2011

This is my simplified version of Zuni Roast Chicken, adapted from Judy Rodgers’ recipe in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook after making this recipe dozens of times. Her method of pre-salting the bird is crucial, and well worth the time, but whereas she states this can be done 1 to 3 days before serving, I have found best results, time and again, with a bird salted exactly three days in advance. No more, no less. It sounds like a lot of forethought, but this step takes about 5 minutes, and provides you with a spectacular Sunday Dinner that is essentially oven-ready.  If you don’t already have some in your pantry, invest in a high quality, coarse sea salt. Most often, I use Sel de Gris, or “Grey Salt” from Brittany, which has an incredibly savory, mineral flavor and is exceptionally versatile in other applications (like roasted potatoes). 


For the Chicken:

  • 4-5 pounds roasting chicken
  • Sel de Gris or other high quality Coarse sea salt like Hawaiian
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 4 sprigs thyme, rosemary, sage, or marjoram

For the Bread Salad:

  • 1 – 2 pounds peasant-style loaf with large holes (not sourdough), day old is best but not required
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced into coins
  • 4 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons defatted pan drippings from the chicken
  • 5 cups fresh arugula, washed, dried, and torn into pieces if leaves are large

For the Chicken:

3 days before serving, measure out 1/2 teaspoon of coarse sea salt per pound of chicken. In other words, for a 4 pound chicken, use 2 teaspoons of salt. Rinse the bird and pat dry with paper towels, inside and out. This will help ensure crispy, golden skin.  If necessary, trim any excess fat. Gently slip your finger under the breast skin, from the lower end of the breasts, and tuck one herb sprig under the skin of each breast. Repeat with each thigh. Rub the bird all over with the sea salt, sprinkling a small amount inside the cavity of the bird.  Sprinkle lightly with freshly cracked pepper, and store covered in refrigerator.

3 days later, preheat the oven to 450. Preheat an oven-proof skillet or dutch oven that is large enough for the bird over medium-high heat. Once again, pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and place breast side up in the pan. You should hear it sizzle. Place in center of preheated oven. Roast 45 minutes, undisturbed. At this point the skin should have some color. You can adjust the temperature up or down 25 degrees as necessary. If the chicken looks close to being finished, you can check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer, inserting it into the thickest part of the the thigh, along the bone, and again into the thickest part of the breast. This is the best way to monitor doneness. Continue checking periodically until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Total cooking time is typically between 60 and 90 minutes.

For the Salad:

While the chicken is roasting, Cut the tough parts of the crust from the bread, and cut into 1″ slices, to equal about a pound of bread. Brush with  2 tablespoons of the olive oil, place on a baking rack atop a sheet pan, and set aside. You may wish to toast the pine nuts in a small baking dish in the oven, alongside the roasting chicken. Watch carefully so as not to burn.

Combine the currants, red wine vinegar, and warm water in a small bowl and set aside until currants are softened. Combine 4 tablespoons olive oil and champagne vinegar in a small bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Once chicken is done roasting, remove from oven and let rest undisturbed, at least 10 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, finish the salad.

Turn oven to broil, and place prepared bread on middle rack of oven. When one side of  bread slices are crisp and browned, flip and brown the other side. If necessary,  when cool enough to handle, use the edge of a table knife to scrape off any charred spots. Tear bread into large pieces and place in large baking dish.

In a small skillet heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat and lightly saute scallions and sliced garlic, just until soft and aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Add to vinaigrette. Drain currants and add to vinaigrette. Pour over bread, along with pine nuts, and toss to combine. Tilt the chicken pan to harvest a couple spoonfuls of pan drippings. A turkey baster works well here, and also allows the fat to rise to the top, so you can squeeze the chicken juices onto the bread, instead of the fat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly cracked pepper, toss to combine, taste and adjust seasonings with additional salt and pepper, or even a splash of oil or Champagne vinegar.

Make sure oven is turned off and place salad in still-warm oven while you carve the chicken and place on a serving platter. When chicken is ready to serve, remove salad from oven, toss with fresh arugula and serve immediately.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rachael Warrington January 9, 2012 at 6:51 am

I am going to make this for the up and coming weekend. It sounds amazing. I have been trying to to do more Sunday dinners for my family and have my teen age kids invite a friend. I grew up with a large Sunday dinner and miss it.


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