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Last week I went to another cooking demonstration at Red Stick Spice Company. The theme this time was food blogs and the menu included foods that have been circulating the blogosphere for a while. The reason they’re so popular is because they are delicious!

Most chefs/cooks have one item that eludes them. Some don’t bake very well. Some have trouble with sauces. My culinary challenge is roasted chicken. It never turns out well and, to be honest, I had given up. It’s just too easy to pop into the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken.

So when I saw that Zuni Cafe roasted chicken was on the menu for the cooking demo, I knew I had to attend. Boy, am I glad I did! This chicken is so good. It was not only a beautiful golden brown on the outside, but succulent and juicy on the inside.

ImageThe secret to Zuni Cafe’s chicken is the dry brine. Dry is the new wet. Brines have gotten pretty popular over the last few years and they’re great for keeping the meat moist and flavorful. The problem with wet brines is that they involve a lot of equipment. The great thing about a dry brine is that all you need is a baking sheet or plate.

So what’s involved in a dry brine, you ask? Salt and herbs. Lots of salt. Seriously. But you’re just going to have to trust me (well, really you’re going to have to trust Judy Rodgers, the chef at Zuni). Also like any other brine, it takes time. One to three days to be exact. This isn’t a meal you’re going to make when you get home from work on a Tuesday (unless you brined your chicken on Sunday). This meal takes a little advance planning, but it is worth every step.Image

Sorry for all the raw chicken photos, but I wanted you to see what a before and after brined chicken looked like. The brined chicken is a tad smaller and a little dried out looking. It might even have some blistering. Think of it as Cinderella before the Fairy Godmother arrives. She might not look that great now, but in the end, she will be the belle of the ball.

Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 small chicken, up to 3 1/2 pounds (see notes)
  • 4 tender sprigs of fresh herbs (see notes)
  • 3/4 tsp kosher or sea salt per pound of chicken
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 cup homemade or low sodium chicken broth

One to three days before serving: Remove and discard the lump of fat and insides of the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out.

Slide a finger under the skin of each breast, making 2 little pockets. Do the same thing for the thickest part of the thighs.  Carefully shove an herb sprig into each of the little pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with the salt and pepper. Season the thickest sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper into the inside cavity (I also shoved a couple of extra herb springs up there too, but you don’t have to).

Carefully truss the chicken using kitchen or butcher’s twine. Place on a baking sheet or plate and refrigerate.

Serving day, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours before serving: Preheat oven to 475˚F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken. I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast-side up in the pan. It should sizzle. Cook chicken about 5-10 minutes over medium heat. Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if it begins to char or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25-50 degrees (see notes). After 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10-20 minutes depending on size (see notes), then flip your bird back over to re-crisp the breast skin, another 10-15 minutes. Remove pan from oven (being very careful as the hot fat might splatter). Allow chicken to rest on a separate carving plate or cutting board. Degalze the hot pan with the chicken broth and stir well. Set aside and keep warm while you are preparing the bread salad.

Notes on the chicken:

  • It is hard to find a small chicken in today’s stores. The smallest one I could find was 4.5 pounds. After I removed the fat lumps and the innards it weighed 3.75 pounds. Not ideal, but better. Just try to get the smallest one you can find. You’ll have to adjust your cooking times accordingly.
  • For the herbs packed in the breasts and thighs I used thyme in the breasts and rosemary in the thighs. Unless you want to start picking out woody stems when you carve, you’ll need to get some tender stemmed herbs because they cook right in the skin.
  • All of these cooking times are approximate, depending on the size of your bird and the accuracy of your oven. My oven gets screaming hot so I started out at the recommended 475˚ until my house started to fill up with smoke at the 10 minute mark. I reduced the temperature to 425˚ for another 20 minutes then reduced again to 400˚. You’ll just need to watch it and adjust accordingly. Since my bird was slightly larger than the recipe calls for I added about 10 minutes to the cooking time after I flipped it for the second time.

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This bread salad is slightly different than most bread salads. It’s almost like a stuffing that’s mixed with salad greens at the end. It is sublime and utterly delicious and worth every second of work. I promise.

The recipe calls for slightly stale peasant-style bread. I have a recipe for ciabatta that is perfect (that recipe is not up on the blog yet, sorry). I made the ciabatta 2 days prior to making the bread salad. Like I said before, this meal takes some planning.

Zuni Cafe Bread Salad

  • 8-12 oz slightly stale chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
  • 6-8 Tble olive oil, separated
  • 1 1/2 Tble Champagne Pear White Balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dried currants, plumped in red wine vinegar and water (see notes)
  • 3 Tble toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 2-3 cups mixed salad greens
  • reserved chicken jus from roasted chicken

Carve off the bottom and most of the top and sides of the bread (reserve for croutons, see notes). Tear bread into bite sized chunks. Place bread on baking pan. Sprinkle bread with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Using the residual heat in the oven (or set your oven at 400˚) toast bread pieces (you can add the pine nuts here as well if they are not already toasted), being careful not to burn them.

Combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the champagne pear vinegar. Remove bread  from pan into a large bowl. Dress the bread with some of the vinaigrette and set aside. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet. Cook the scallions and garlic over medium heat until they are soft, but not browned (see notes).  Scrape into the bread mixture. Fold in the pine nuts (if they’re not already mixed in) and the currants. Gently pour some of the reserved chicken jus over the bread mixture. Pour the remainder of the vinaigrette over the bread. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Mix in salad greens and serve with the carved roasted chicken. Enjoy!

Notes on the bread salad:

  • Just because my ciabatta recipe isn’t on the blog yet is no reason you can’t make it. Use this recipe.
  • Since I made my own bread I didn’t do all that trimming. My bread has a soft exterior so I wasn’t worried about it being too hard. I really think the trimming isn’t necessary.
  • I didn’t plump the currants. You don’t have to do this step.
  • I am not a huge proponent of using the microwave to cook. However, I did use it to soften the garlic and scallion. I poured 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small microwaveable bowl, added the slivered garlic and sliced scallions. Stirred, then microwaved for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave another 15-20 seconds until they’re soft. It saves dirtying another skillet.

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