I've been hearing about this famous Zuni Cafe roasted chicken for a while now. It's one of those recipes that every known food blogger seems to have attempted at some point. And I have a confession; I have a hard time imagining a roast chicken so good that it would cause this much commotion. This one singular chicken recipe. And that is probably because I don't love chicken. Is that horrible to say? It's not that don't like chicken, I just don't love it, and I am fully aware that this is a result of the fact that about 95% of the chicken I've ever been served in my life has been pretty lame. So at some point, I just stopped ordering chicken in restaurants. Unless it's fried, that's a different story. But I have just never been inclined to ordered a roast chicken in a restaurant - even a great restaurant - because I figure it's on the menu for the diners who are least adventurous. But now I am realizing that that is a pretty unfair way to look at it, because obviously there are restaurants out there that are doing such great roast chicken that people all the way on the other side of the country are talking about it. And talking about it, and talking about it. And since I'm over 3000 miles away from that famous chicken, it's pretty lucky that they shared their recipe so I could make it for myself.
What stunned me about this recipe was how simple it was. It appeared that the main secret to this lauded roast chicken was a dry brine, and a long dry brine at that. Just salt the heck out of that chicken, and stick it in the fridge for 1-3 days. That's it! And the result? Juicy, delicious, perfectly crisped skin, and a chicken that changed my mind about chicken. Recipe after the jump:
ZUNI CAFE ROAST CHICKEN
From The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
[Note: The originally recipe is written in conjunction with the bread salad that they serve with the chicken at the restaurant. I have pulled out just the portion of the recipe regarding the chicken because the technique for roasting is what I was most interested in. Go here for the recipe in its entirety.]
1 small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
About teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water
Rinse the chicken thoroughly in cold water. Using paper towels, dry the chicken inside and out very thoroughly. Slide your finger under the skin of the breast, carefully separating the skin from the meat. Place a sprig of your herb of choice under the skin. Season the bird inside and out with a generous amount of salt and the black pepper and rub into the skin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 days depending on the size of the bird.
Preheat the oven to 475. Unwrap the brined bird and pat any condensation on the skin off with a a paper towel. Heat a saute pan or skillet just larger than the bird over medium heat for about five minutes. (I used a 10-inch skillet for a small 2 3/4 pound bird). Place the bird breast side up in the hot skillet and place in the middle of the preheated oven. Roast for 20 minutes. At this point, check that the skin is browning. If it is not, raise the heat to 500. If it looks too dark, lower it to 450. After it has roasted 30 minutes, flip the bird over. Roast for 10 to 20 minutes depending on size. Flip back to expose the breast and roast an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Total roasting time will be 45 to 60 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes of so.
Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.
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.
Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.
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 to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste-the juices will be extremely flavorful.