On the first day of winter this year, we made our very favorite winter dish, in honor of Judy Rodgers, the chef at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe who passed away early this month. Judy was a fantastic chef and cookbook author and we were so sorry to hear of her death. We’re fortunate to have been to her restaurant in San Francisco several times and our copy of “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook”, published in 2002, is in tatters from use. This Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken is a real winner. It’s a dry 24 hour salt-brined small bird cooked in a high-heat oven served atop a crunchy bread salad with greens, currants and pine nuts. Matthew has made this dish so many times he can do it with eyes closed. Please note that we like to add cauliflower to the mix–it’s optional.
Zuni Cafe Chicken
Adapted from Judy Rodgers by Eric Asimov of The New York Times with further adaptions by Matthew Lovette
- TOTAL TIME
- 60 to 90 minutes, plus 1 to 2 days for dry brining
- One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 pounds
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage
- Sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Two cups cauliflower, optional
- Season the chicken 1 to 3 days before serving (for 3 1/4- to 3 1/2-pound chickens, at least 2 days): Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry (a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown).
- Slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets, then use a fingertip to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Push an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
- Using about 3/4 teaspoon sea salt per pound of chicken and pepper to taste, season the chicken liberally all over with salt and the pepper. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity and on the backbone. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
- When you’re ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 475 degrees. Depending on 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 roasting to brown the chicken properly.
- 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.
- Place in the center of the oven 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 smoking, 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). At this point, toss in two cups of cauliflower florets that have been tossed in Olive Oil and salt.
- Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on 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.
- Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Pour the clear fat from the pan, leaving the drippings. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl. 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. As the chicken rests, 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.
- Cut the chicken into pieces and pour the pan drippings over the chicken.
- YIELD 2 or more servings