The menu at The Zuni Cafe, one of San Francisco’s iconic restaurants, changes frequently but this best-ever roast chicken is the dish that regular customers insist on keeping constant. Here is the recipe, as promised, for those of you who want to make this dish for Valentine’s dinner for your special someone, or for your family.
Ingredients – generously serves two
- A 3 lb. or slightly smaller chicken, preferably a fryer. (Do not try this with a larger chicken, it won’t be as moist or nearly as good).
- 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 lb. day-old chewy country-style bread (not sourdough), cut into large chunks, crust removed
- 8 tbsp. mild olive oil
- 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp. dried currants
- 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. pine nuts
- 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 scallions’ trimmed, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
- 2 tsp. lightly salted good-quality chicken stock or lightly salted water
- 6 oz. baby red mustard greens or arugula or frisee leaves
1. Rinse chicken, pat very dry inside and out, and put on a plate. Loosen skin from breast and thighs without tearing it and tuck an herb sprig into each pocket. Liberally season chicken all over with salt and pepper. Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days (trust me this step makes all the difference).
2. On roasting day: put one to two inch thick slices of bread on a baking sheet and brush with 3 tbsp. of the oil. Broil until lightly colored on each side, 2-3 minutes per side then tear bread into 2″-3″ pieces and put into a large bowl. Mix white vinegar, 4 tbsp. of the oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Toss 1⁄4 cup of the vinaigrette with the bread. Soak currants in red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp. warm water in another small bowl.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
3. Heat a 10″ ovenproof skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes (I use my mother’s old cast iron skillet). Wipe chicken dry, put in skillet breast side up, and roast in hot oven for 30 minutes. Turn bird over and roast for 10-15 minutes more, then flip back over to re-crisp breast skin, 5-10 minutes more.
4. Meanwhile, warm pine nuts in oven for 1-2 minutes, then add to bread. Sweat garlic and scallions in 1 tbsp. of the oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add to bread and toss well. Drain currants and add to bread, then add stock or water and toss again. Put bread salad into a small baking dish and tent with foil. Transfer to oven when chicken gets its last turn.
5. Remove chicken from oven and turn off heat, leaving bread salad in oven for 5 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a plate. Pour off fat from skillet, leaving pan drippings behind. Swirl 1 tbsp. water in skillet. Slash skin between thighs and breast of chicken, then tilt bird and plate over skillet, draining juices into drippings. Allow chicken to rest for 10 minutes, then carve into 8 pieces.
6. Simmer pan drippings over medium heat, scraping up browned bits, for 1 minute. Toss hot bread salad with a spoonful or two of pan drippings in a bowl, add greens and remaining vinaigrette, and toss well. Put bread salad on a platter or two individual plates and arrange chicken on top, as seen on photo above.
This roast chicken gives Julia Child’s a run for her money. And, that’s saying a lot.
This Zuni Cafe two person recipe was published in SAVEUR a few years ago. It includes a generous amount of protein, reasonable fat, vitamins and minerals, and about 600 calories per one person serving. The good news: it’s worth every mouth-watering calorie, but think about saving it for special occasions.
FYI: My choice of wine with this fantastic roast chicken would not be white, although a good Chardonnay always works with roast chicken.
My first choice would be a fruit-forward slightly chilled light red like a fabulous Napa Valley 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros from Dr. Vance Thompson’s Jessup Cellars.
If you are feeling particularly love-smitten flush, one of the beyond-brilliant 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Reserves from the Mazzocco Winery would work beautifully because this well-seasoned roast chicken holds up nicely to really great California Zinfandels.
For those of you who always prefer extraordinary organic wines, a 2010 Robert Sinsky Four Vineyards Pinot Noir would also be perfect with this roast chicken dish.
The three wineries mentioned were founded, or are owned. or partially owned, by delightfully-fun and healthy-lifestyle-focused ophthalmologists with stunningly-great palates.