I must admit that I have only eaten once at Zuni Cafe. This is only due to inconvenient geography- if we lived in San Francisco we would definitely eat there as often as possible. The menu is well balanced, the food skillfully prepared and the atmosphere pleasant. I have wanted to make the Roast Chicken with Bread Salad since we dined there. Our friends Jeff (an outstanding chef himself) and Michelle (whose opinions about food I highly respect) do dine there reasonably often and they raved about it.
Several years ago, I purchased “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers” mostly because I am a Caesar Salad aficionado and they make an outstanding version. In reading through the book, one thing became clear- there is a reason that Ms. Rodgers has attracted and inspired a generation of great chefs and that Zuni has become a culinary icon- she is innovative with, passionate about and committed to outstanding, fresh and flavourful food.
This particular recipe is several pages long but don’t let that put you off. It is really just a detailed account of the two components- a salted and seasoned ahead chicken that you roast and a bread salad prepared and mixed with various flavours including a vinaigrette and the roast chicken pan drippings. There are various layers to this salads flavours- you have tender succulent roast chicken with crispy skin, flavourful bread with a tart vinaigrette, the textures and flavours of pine nuts, garlic and onions, the slight bitterness of the arugula and the sweet tart of the currants. The pan drippings add the final highlight and bring it all together. Here is a link to the recipe as posted at TODAY.com– I’m not writing out over 4 pages of instruction if I don’t need to. 🙂
Since I admit to being a recipe tweaker I have to admit that I couldn’t let well enough alone and I added a few things- I added a bit of Dijon mustard , Sherry vinegar and homemade lemon salt to the plain Champagne vinaigrette and I added a tablespoon of chopped dried cherries as well as the currants because I like their flavour and I wanted a bit more sweet tart offset of flavour in there. I will probably add a chopped shallot to the next one as well. This recipe is definitely a keeper- the roast chicken is outstanding and even though you need to plan a day or two ahead it produces fabulous results. One tip to pay special attention to is to wipe the chicken really quite dry after the fridge rest and before you place it into the preheated pan- this will prevent sticking – it worked great for me and I didn’t lose any of the luscious crisp skin that way. Here are some pictures of the process:
Oh!- I forgot to mention- I cooked this all on the grill instead of in the oven- it’s still a bit too hot for me to want to heat my oven to 450-500F for an hour. I cooked the chicken in a cast iron skillet in the covered grill by preheating the grill to high and then turning off one burner and putting the pan over that area, the other burner was turned to medium low to maintain the head- it worked great.
I highly recommend this recipe- give it a try- you’ll be happy!