Growing up, Sunday supper was almost always roast chicken. My Grandmother owned a general store and local farmers would pay off their accounts with produce and often a live chicken. By the time I was seven years old, I could process a chicken ready for the pan. My Great Aunt Nora did the dispatching but I eventually graduated to that part of the process as well.
The chickens we ate were, as suggested here, small. Judy Rodgers, owner of the Zuni Cafe and author of the Zuni Cafe Cookbook was my first chef when I entered the kitchen as a pantry cook at the Union Hotel in Benicia. The famous Zuni Cafe roast chicken and bread salad had not yet been created but we cooked a lot of chicken.
The concept for the Union Hotel menu was American food and Judy created the menu with Marion Cunningham. There were wonderful James Beard favorites and the most popular dish on the menu was fried chicken. We cooked them in cast iron pans that always lined the back burners and everyone who worked in that kitchen has burn scars on their arms as a souvenir.
The size of the bird has a great deal to do with the success of this dish. Marin Sun Farms in Petaluma has a small and very delicious offering that runs from 3 to 4 pounds as a rule. You can check their web site to see where you can find them. Otherwise, lobby your local market to offer whole small chickens. The small birds are often the ones that are cut up for “parts”.
The other really important step is pre-salting. I wrote a blog on Salt a while back that you can research for more information.
This is a legendary dish. If you can’t get to San Francisco where it is still on the menu at the Zuni, here is your way to enjoy it at home.
Sunday Supper should nourish and ready you for the upcoming week. Share this roast chicken with family and friends. You will make them happy and maybe you will have enough leftovers for a glorious lunch on Monday!
Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread SaladIngredients for the chicken
One small chicken, 2-¾ to 3-½ pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or sage, about ½ inch long
About ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water
Ingredients for the salad
Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 tablespoons olive oil (McEvoy Ranch Traditional Blend Olive Oil)
1-½ tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar (McEvoy Ranch Champagne Vinegar)
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or as needed (McEvoy Ranch Pinot Noir Vinegar)
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
¼ cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried
*Note - From here on, the directions are in my words. The concepts are still Judy’s. I recommend you buy the book. Not just for this recipe but to enjoy a look into the mind of a brilliant chef and read her story.
Seasoning the chicken:
At least two days ahead, season the chicken. Rinse the bird and dry thoroughly. Slide a sprig of herb under the skin of the breast and the thigh. Be careful not to tear the skin. Sprinkle the salt (¾ teaspoon sea salt per # of chicken) and pepper over the chicken and sprinkle a little inside the chicken cavity. Cover loosely and refrigerate. (I don’t cover mine at all but this may not be practical, given your refrigerator space.)
Starting the bread salad:
Preheat broiler.Cut bread into large chunks removing the bottom crust. I use ciabatta and leave the rest of the crust intact. Brush bread liberally with olive oil and broil briefly. Turn and crisp all sides. Trim off anything that got too brown and tear into irregular chunks and bits. You should have approximately 4 cups of varied sizes of bread chunks/bits. Combine ¼ cup olive oil with white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with the torn bread. Taste for salt and pepper and toss again. Cover currants with Pinot Noir vinegar and warm water and set aside.
Roasting chicken and assembling salad:
Preheat oven to 475 F. Note here - ovens vary and bird sizes vary. If you cook this a few times, you will learn to adjust oven temperature so it works best for you. Convection ovens can be used for the first 30 minutes if you have one. You can probably reduce total cooking time by 5 or 10 minutes if you use a convection oven. Preheat a shallow flameproof roasting pan or skillet over medium heat. Place the very dry bird breast side up into the pan. It should sizzle.
Place in oven on the center rack and listen for it to sizzle again. It should start browning within 20 minutes. Raise the temperature slightly if it doesn’t. If it starts to brown too quickly, turn the temperature back down. After 30 minutes, turn the bird over. Roast another 10 to 20 minutes then turn breast side up again to re crisp skin for about 5 to 10 minutes. (You will be adding the bread salad to the oven here.) Total oven time will be 45 minutes to one hour. Toast the pine nuts in the oven while the chicken is cooking and add them to the bread.
Saute the garlic and scallions in olive oil without browning and add to the bread. Drain the plumped currants and add to the bread. Dribble the chicken stock or water over the bread and fold everything together. Taste and adjust with salt, pepper, vinegar and/or olive oil as needed.
Put the bread salad in a baking dish, tent with foil and set aside. Place the salad into the oven after you flip the chicken back to its breast up side to re crisp. (See note above.)
Finishing and serving:
Remove chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad in for 5 minutes. Lift chicken from the pan, tent with foil and set aside. Pour the clear fat out and add add about a tablespoon of water to the drippings left in the pan. Drain any juice from the resting chicken back into the roasting pan. Warm a platter in the oven. Place the warm bread salad into a bowl and toss with the pan drippings and greens. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss again. Taste for seasoning. Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter and nestle the chicken into the salad.
Judy suggested a Pinot Poir and so do I - McEvoy Ranch Evening Standard or the Azaya Vineyard Pinot Noir would both be excellent companions to this Sunday Supper!