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February 21, 2007

RECIPE: Zuni Roast Chicken

Zunichicken There is a chicken crisis in San Francisco since the advent of Hoffman Game Birds leaving the Ferry Plaza farmers market. I have been grieving ever since, but I was heartened to read a post from the blog, Chuck Eats, about Prather's heritage chickens. Hoffman is a Manteca-based poultry farm, which supplies Chez Panisse and other high-end restaurants. Prather's chickens are from Kansas and Chuck says they taste better than Hoffman's. This I have to experience to believe. Both Hoffman and Prather's birds are  pastured i.e. not kept in tight pens like most of the commercial chickens including the ones from Whole Foods.

And Rosie? Dairy Queen from the Ethicurean blog sums it up best, "Rosie is a free range chicken, allowed to run and forage outdoors in an open-air, fenced area outside the barn. Note use of the word “allowed,” as opposed to, say, “encouraged. When Michael Pollan visited Petaluma Poultry, he saw not a single bird outside either time."

The famous Zuni Roast Chicken recipe below calls for a small bird between 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds so the Prather birds would be perfect because they're smaller. I didn't have time to run to the Ferry Plaza for my dinner party last night so I bought a Rosie organic chicken from Whole Foods. It was a little on the large size for the Zuni recipe but it came out smashingly just the same. Below is the recipe with my comments in red.

Zuni Roast Chicken
From Judy Rodgers, "Zuni Cafe Cookbook"
Servings: 2 to 4

One small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds. I used a 4+ pound bird.
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long. I like thyme best. I also like to sprinkle chopped Italian flat leaf parsley and my grandfather's dried oregano.
About 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Seasoning the chicken (Can be done 1 to 3 days before serving; for 3-1/4- to 3-1/2-pound chickens, at least 2 days. I didn't season ahead of time and it was fine.)

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough—a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper {we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken}. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate. I put a quartered lemon on the inside of the bird. You could also use an orange.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven, and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 or as low as 450 during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly. If that proves to be the case, begin at that temperature the next time you roast a chicken. If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance browning, and may reduce overall cooking by 5 to 10 minutes. I used my convection as described with very good browning.

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 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 the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce 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. (If the chicken is closer to room temp, this also helps the skin not to stick.) 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 an hour. Since mine was a larger bird, slightly over 4 pounds, it took an hour. I switched from convection to regular bake mode after the first 20-30 minutes of browning.

Finishing and serving

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat.

Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, 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. If the chicken sits in any juice, the skin will get soggy again so make sure you drain ALL the juice.

Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

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.

Serve in the warm platter. This chicken was very tender. I also roasted carrots, potatoes and onions in the same pan, tossed with olive oil and salt. The ones that were exposed (not underneath the chicken) got very well done. I would put the veggies in half-way through the process next time. In any case, they were carmelized and a beautiful accompaniment. Don't skimp on the salt!

OTHER NOTES: I made a stock out of the carcass the next day. Not quite as good as the Hoffman stock but still very tasty and a beautiful light brown color.


CB, Thank you for posting the Zuni Chicken recipe!! I love it...now I roast chicken at least once a week!! I love to stuff the bird with a ton of herbs, lemon or orange peel, garlic. I put pats of butter under the skin. I make sure the chicken is well-browned all over before removing from the oven. Love it!!

How would this recipe work using a rotizserie on a BBQ?

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